Friday, May 15, 2009

Experiencing Another's Sorrow

Over the last few weeks, facing Aaron’s death has done some unexpected things within me.  It has been quite an emotionally difficult time.  So much so, that I could never have imagined I would be affected as greatly as I have.  As I’ve talked to God about all the sorrow that I have felt and the tears I have cried, I have also asked Him for understanding in why I am feeling everything so deeply. 

On April 18th, when I sat down to journal about the events of the prior week regarding Aaron, I began with the following words:

Oh my Lord, I am exhausted…the emotions are so raw…it’s been such a difficult week.   Nothing compared to the sorrow of Aaron’s parents and immediate family.  But we do have our own sorrow that we carry.  Lord, my heart is breaking for the sorrow of everyone affected by young Aaron’s death.  I cry for them all.  I cry because I will miss hearing Braden talking about Aaron, his dear friend.  And it breaks my heart that Braden has lost a friend that he cared so much about.  I cry because Aaron’s touch on all of our lives is now finished until a future time when we are all in the heavens.

I need to write and express my emotions and detail the events of this week but cannot even do so without the tears flowing and flowing.  My heart aches so much.  I don’t understand it.  A mother’s heart that cries for another mother’s sorrow, a mother’s heart that cries for her son’s sorrow in losing his friend, a mother that cries for the death of a young man, a mother’s heart that knows it could easily have been her own son whose earthly life just ended…a compassionate and empathetic heart crying for the loss and sorrow of so many. 

So many different things on my heart and rollercoaster of emotions…

Aaron was not my own son or my dear friend; I barely knew him personally.  But it has been like I am intensely feeling everyone else’s loss—I can’t even explain it myself.  It has been quite odd and surreal.  Although, I do know that God has been allowing me to feel it this way—for whatever His reasons are.  As I have thought about it each day, I have told Him that I would rather feel the painful loss of those who loved Aaron than not to feel it.  So I have accepted and dealt with it.  There have been days I have broken down, weeping with such sorrow that it made my head spin and feel dizzy as it threatened to overwhelm me.  In the first couple of weeks, I had a few mornings in which I felt like I didn’t want to even get out of bed in the mornings.  I kept thinking I was feeling a microscopic inkling of what his mom was probably feeling.  Thoughts of Aaron and his family (especially his mom) and friends have been constantly on my mind and heart throughout each day.  I have been in sorrowful mourning for the loss of Aaron’s presence here on this earth.  I have grieved with all those who loved Aaron.  I love him through them and miss him terribly through them. 

One morning, as I was crying on God’s shoulders, He reminded me of Jesus weeping with Mary over Lazarus death as it is told in John 11: 

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."

But when Jesus heard this, He said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. "But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep."

The disciples then said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him."

Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, so that we may die with Him."

So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house.

Martha then said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?"

They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."

Jesus wept.

So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?"

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Remove the stone."

Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days."

Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

So they removed the stone Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. "I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me." When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth."

The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.

Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.                         

Jesus wept” is the answer I have been given for the extent of my grief.  Christ in me is weeping with all who loved Aaron and are experiencing heart-breaking sorrow in having lost his presence in their lives.  Christ knows the depths of everyone’s pain and loss and shares it.  He understands our despair in not comprehending why Aaron had to go so soon and why what happened happened.  Christ hears our “whys” and “what ifs”.  He knows that Aaron is missed and that our hearts will take a long time to heal and recover.  He is the Great Healer of our hearts.  Christ cries with us and feels the sorrow with us.  Yet, He does not want us to forget that He is the resurrection and the life.  And that even in the death of our loved ones we will see the glory of God because the earthly death of our temporal flesh is not the end.

On April 18th, I ended my journal entry with the following words:

What can we do but let God and time heal all our hearts from this tragic loss and expectantly look forward to the day when one day we will all be reunited with Aaron again in heaven.  Lord, hold us all close and comfort us as only you can.

I know without a doubt that God and time will bring healing to everyone’s aching hearts.  When I was 11, I had a very dear friend die from Cystic Fibrosis.  It was a tragic time for me.  Michele had been the very first friend I had made when our family moved from Puerto Rico to Houston, Texas.  She became my friend when I could barely speak any English and had to mostly communicate with a stumble of words and hand signals.  But she was sweet and patient with me.  Two years later, Cystic Fibrosis overcame her body.  When I was 19, I lost another very dear friend due to an auto accident.  She had been my friend through some of my most difficult teen years and my maid of honor at my wedding.  I could not believe my friend, Nicolette, was so suddenly gone in an auto accident that seemed to have taken place only with her vehicle and no one else around.  Four weeks ago, those two events from my life kept replaying within my mind.  And I was grateful that through my own past experiences God could reassure me that healing will come for my children and the other youth in how they feel about the unexpected loss of their friend.  There will be moments of tears and frustration and of not understanding.  But with each passing day, the pain of the loss lessens just a teeny bit more.  We hang on to our treasured memories and the blessings we enjoyed of that special someone having been a part of our lives, even if it wasn’t as long as we would have liked.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

May the Lord hold us all close and comfort us as only He can…

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Memories of Aaron

On April 13, 2009, one of my son and daughter’s friends from their Christian youth group died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a terrible and painful shock to all of us. Aaron was a very important part of my son’s life. I did not know Aaron personally because I talked and hung out with him; I knew Aaron because Braden talked to me about Aaron all the time. His name was mentioned in our home constantly. I’ve waited a while to try to write this memorial to hopefully make it easier, but it is not easy. Thinking about Aaron, what has happened, and how everyone who knew and loved him has been affected, still brings many tears to my eyes and much sorrow to my heart. But this post is not to be about me, it is to be about Aaron.

I write and post some memories of Aaron as I have heard them spoken from Braden’s lips, and some from my own memories and experience. They are not necessarily in any particular order or they might be. But as Braden has spoken of Aaron before and after his death, so I write from what he has told me:

A year ago the youth group went on a mission trip in that state of Missouri. There was a day when they were supposed to have gone to an amusement park but that plan ended up being scrapped for a day riding 4-wheelers instead. Braden told us how Aaron was having a good, fast time driving the 4-wheeler when something happened and Aaron flipped with the 4-wheeler. Aaron and 4-wheeler went down together with the 4-wheeler somewhat landing partly on Aaron, but Aaron was not hurt. On that same trip Braden spoke of the time he and Aaron sat by a pond and talked for a very long time as they overlooked the pond. Braden said they were there so long that some of their friends came by to ask them if they were okay.

(renovation work during mission trip in Missouri)

Last fall, the youth attended a youth conference in Denver called Acquire the Fire. One of Braden’s greatest memories of Aaron during that weekend was Aaron getting up around 2:00 a.m. to smack Stephen over the head with a pillow because he was snoring so terribly and keeping everyone else awake!

The first and only time I recall ever seeing Aaron in person was in January when the youth had a broomball event. Michael and I decided to participate with the youth on this event and off we went to the local ice arena to play broomball. As we waited outside the ice arena, we noticed Aaron and Nicole standing close together. And Michael asked Braden if they were boyfriend and girlfriend; to which Braden and Madison (our daughter) replied yes. As we all played broomball on the ice, Nicole and Aaron mostly stood on the sidelines chatting together and Braden joined them a lot of the time, along with another friend, Chris. Then Aaron decided that it was more fun to run on the ice and then fall on his butt to slide than to participate in the broomball madness. So he and Chris did that activity for a long while. I got a couple of pictures of Aaron, Nicole, Braden, and Chris during their time hanging out on the sidelines.

This past February when Braden was inviting some friends over for his 15th birthday celebration, he really wanted Aaron to come and spend the night too. However, Aaron’s family had some kind of event taking place the same weekend and Aaron wasn’t able to come over. Braden was really disappointed, and at that time I did not realize how important Aaron’s friendship was to Braden.

In March, Aaron’s mom called Braden to tell him that she was going to have a surprise 16th birthday party for Aaron and asked if Braden would be able to attend. Unfortunately, we said he could not attend the party because it was taking place at the same time we have our home church meeting, and we wanted Braden to be with the family. Especially since the prior weekend he had not been with us due to a youth activity he had attended. Now, I’m really sad that Braden didn’t get to go to Aaron’s party; I know he was disappointed about that too.

In March, the youth group decided to go on a fun youth vacation trip over Spring Break. They were supposed to have been going to Mexico to minister and build a home for a needy family, but the situation in Mexico was unsafe and the trip cancelled. So instead of a mission trip, they decided to go on a sight-seeing road trip. Initially, I was not going to send either Braden or Madison. There were various reasons involved with that decision. However, just when I was sure that neither of them was going, God softened my heart to let Braden go—I felt that Braden deserved to go and that it would be wrong to keep him home. At the time, I found it a bit odd that I really wanted Braden to go after feeling so sure I wasn’t going to send him. Now, I know better and understand completely. Isn’t hindsight amazing? I even considered going along with them on the trip as the adult female helper/chaperone and to get a little break myself. But they didn’t need me because Aaron’s mom was able and willing to go. Braden came home with many stories of the trip, and from the first moment upon his arrival he kept telling me of the best picture he took the whole trip. He had taken around 175 pics, and the one he called his “best” was a picture of Nicole and Aaron together on the tram. Braden and the youth group traveled through Arizona and New Mexico and saw the majestic Grand Canyon; but in his heart, his best picture was of Aaron and Nicole smiling happily on the Sandia Peaks Tram. He was, and is, mighty proud of that picture. In my opinion, that wasn’t his only best picture, because while on that trip Braden took quite a few really good pictures of Aaron that will also be treasured by him and by Aaron’s mom and dad and Nicole.

(Braden's "best" picture; Nicole and Aaron on the Sandia Peaks tram)

(3-man slingshot shooting snowballs off the Sandia Peaks)

During that trip, Braden hung out with Aaron and Nicole a large part of the time and made more great memories with Aaron. One of those memories had to do with a water drinking contest while on their way to Albuquerque. This is how Braden recounted the event:

On the way there, Aaron and I thought it would be a good idea to have a water chugging contest between us, so we both drank about four to five bottles of water when we weren’t going to reach the Michael’s house for another two hours. You could say we had to go to the bathroom REALLY badly by the time we reached their house. After we had both relieved ourselves, we emptied our luggage and ate a wonderful meal of homemade lasagna. We hung out downstairs, four of us played Pictionary while four more played pool and the rest just hung out.

The youth also had this fun, “spooky” time at the church in which they were staying overnight during the trip. Someone started something about the church being haunted, and they were running around scaring each other and hearing “strange” noises and doors closing. Braden and Aaron and Nicole were involved in that “spooky fun” group, creeping each other out and having a blast. Here is a little excerpt of that event from Braden’s writing about it:

At about eight we left for the church where we would be staying that night. After we unpacked, four of us went exploring the huge three story building. While we were on the third floor (it was more of an attic) we heard voices of the people on the bottom floor, and almost everyone freaked out and ran for the stairs. We reached the bottom and stopped for a breath. Then one of us (again I won’t say names) thought they heard footsteps so they bolted, leaving me behind. (The one who said he would protect us was the first to run). But alas, it was all in fun and we all got in bed at eleven.

(Braden and Aaron hugging each other in group photo)

(Aaron's mom is in the striped sweater bending down)

(group photo at the Grand Canyon)

Then there was Nicole’s birthday party in April. The youth friends all had so much fun. Madison was the first to tell me how Braden and Aaron had been trying to pop birthday balloons by squishing them between their chests. Braden also shared that memory with me the next day after the party. I wish a picture would have been taken of that fun between them. Braden and Madison also later shared how Aaron had given everyone hugs before leaving the party. He was gone from us three days later.

Just last week, Braden shared that Aaron’s favorite game to play on Sunday evenings at youth group was British Bull Dog. Braden and Madison also spoke of Aaron attending youth group Bible study at Trevor’s house and how Trevor would have Aaron sit at his feet in his toddler son’s Elmo chair to make sure he behaved during the study. Ha ha!

Braden mentioned to me that Aaron talked about becoming a Marine. I asked Braden if he knew why, but he wasn’t sure. He just said that is what Aaron talked about doing in the future.

As I was going to wash Braden’s slacks that we bought just for him to wear to Aaron’s memorial service, I found Braden’s notes he had typed for what he thought he would say about Aaron during the service. So I write here straight from his notes (except the non-italicized words are mine for context):

Running through McDonald’s shouting I’m on fire! (March 2008 Missouri trip)

Remembering the good times in Missouri like when we sat out on a bench overlooking a small pond, and talked for over an hour. (March 2008 Missouri trip)

Shooting snowballs off of the Sandia Peaks with a three man slingshot, and throwing sticks and watching the updraft catch them and hover for a good minute. (March 2009 Spring Break trip)

Helping him pay for the last forty five cents of a shake Aaron split with Nicole. (March 2009 Spring Break trip)

Aaron was somebody I could count on for anything. I could sit with him and just talk for the whole day. I told him almost everything about me. And he would do the same. I could talk with him about anything. He was funny, and made stupid jokes but they were funny. Aaron could make you laugh even when you felt terrible. He would stick by me through the thick and thin. I remember when Aaron, Nicole and I sat on a bench in Sedona beside a Cross that overlooked the red hills. And although no words were spoken aloud, I knew that he was there. I honestly can say that we are all blessed to know Aaron.

Braden considered him a best friend. Aaron touched the lives of many, and he was loved by many. Many miss him terribly and look forward to the day when they will be reunited with him again in heaven.

(just Aaron on the tram)

(riding a "horse")

Missing and remembering Aaron...