Somebody said that any burden of grief could be carried so long as it became part of a larger story. Another coping strategy is to accept grief as a “part” of you, allowing emotional scar tissue to compartmentalize the loss. In either case, we carry the grief with us until we see them again, but we do so with confidence that our experience has made us more human and sensitive to the frailty of our physical bodies. I am not yet a subscriber to any particular strategy of dealing with profound loss, since I just recently started this journey, but I am willing to try anything rooted in my faith in a loving and personal Creator in order to move beyond a collapsing spiral of grief that can lead to life sucking and suffocating sorrow. My goal is to continue to live as fully and as well as possible, for my family, friends, community, and Heavenly Father.
2015 begins the third act of my life. The second act of my life started when I began to attain liberation from my “self” when Annie and I started a family in 2001. It ended suddenly, unexpectedly and painfully on December 14, 2014, at age 49, when my oldest son Jeffrey John Jr., received his Angel wings. He was escorted to Heaven after a 3-plus year war against cancer by an armada of Angels. Those same Angels, which now include Jeffrey, are waiting to help us navigate our remaining time here on earth if we are willing to open up ourselves to their presence. My two favorite prayers have always been the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Quite simply, God wants us to choose to manifest love and compassion on earth, just as it is in Heaven. My other favorite prayer is the following Angel of God, a traditional prayer for the intercession of the guardian angel, often taught by mothers to their children as their first prayer: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, and guide. Amen.”
Notwithstanding my grief, I am 100% sure that Jeffrey is with other family, completely healed, and in communion with a God who knows, cares and cherishes all of us. In fact, he has been spiritually well all along, including that day on 11 – 11 – 11 when he was diagnosed with the rare and deadly sarcoma cancer called DSRCT, and our material world came crashing down upon us. Since his birth on September 15, 2003, Jeffrey was always so much more than his biological body, since you could clearly see his eternal spiritual self bursting at the seams. He made the transition to his pure spiritual self-form on 12-14-14, at age 11. He picked a great time to leave, too — the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut where TWENTY 1st graders and 6 adults were killed by a despondent teenager who had severe mental problems. A friend pointed out that God and Jeffrey picked this date, so he could be a big brother to not only his earthly siblings, 9 year-old Lincoln, 8 year-old Amelie, and 22 year-old Mercedes, but also so he could be a big brother to the spirits of the 20 children whose lives were tragically shortened by this horrible act of violence. Coincidence or planned, I am sure he is providing love and compassion to those innocent children, and many others, because that is how Jeffrey acted while on this earth.
I wasn’t ready to give my boy up to God on that day, nor would I have been ready at any other time. No parent should suffer the soul-deadening sadness and grief that accompanies the loss of a child. We are hard-wired to love our children unconditionally because that is how God feels for each of us. Author and Harvard neurosurgeon Eben Alexander recently wrote about his near death experience and what he heard from our “omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God”:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.
You have nothing to fear.
There is nothing you can do wrong.”
So why does a loving God permit an 11 year old child to be killed by an aggressive disease, or 20 children to be shot by a mentally disturbed young man? Dr. Alexander learned in Heaven during his remarkable near-death experience that evil exists in small amounts and “was necessary because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth–no forward movement, no chance for us to become what God longed for us to be.” Based on all the bad decisions mankind continues to make, we appear to be no more than kindergarteners in the school of life. But there is hope. Reassuringly, Dr. Alexander goes on to say that as “horrible and all powerful as evil sometimes seemed to be in a world like ours, in the larger picture love was overwhelmingly dominant, and it would ultimately be triumphant.”
So why did such heart-wrenching grief, and, yes evil, have to be part our story? Cancer is a fact of life, and we all have some form of it in our “use by so-and-so date” bodies. Jeffrey pushed the treatment envelope for this disease perhaps beyond where any other child has ventured. He underwent multi-modality treatment of his disease, including chemotherapy, multiple tumor debulking surgeries, radioimmunotherapy, proton radiation therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy, and autologous NK cell transplant immunotherapy.
Jeffrey faced these debilitating and painful therapies with super-human courage and grace. He was known as Iron Man throughout his war on cancer because of his heroic efforts, physical and emotional fortitude, and desire to protect others from his dreadful disease. Ultimately his status was upgraded to Titanium Man, not because of the hundreds of titanium clips in his body that were used by his surgeon to stop bleeding, but rather because of his inexhaustible courage and amazing grace in the face of a uniformly fatal disease which still has no cure. Not yet, at least.
Why did Jeffrey, his mother Annie, and I fight at all? Why did we quit our jobs and devote three years of our lives to battling this scourge? Because God wanted us to inspire all parents facing any life-threatening diagnosis with the strength to fight back for as long as possible. Because we love life, and God wanted us to share our story with the millions who tend to sleepwalk through their own lives, never recognizing the precious gift that life is, and their own capacity for love. Also, we kept fighting because we wanted Jeffrey to experience as many of the good things in this earthly life as possible. As a result, he lived long enough to meet his nephew Ashton Jeffrey, the son of his older sister Mercedes. He graduated from the 5th grade and got to go to camp where he zip-lined with his peers. He found an innocent and romantic love with another patient while waiting for scans at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He got to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” He built his umpteenth Star Wars LEGO set with his nimble and purposeful hands.
Yes, we wanted to enjoy even more time with our wonderful son, brother, grandson, friend, nephew and uncle. But God called Jeffrey to be with Him and share his indomitable spirit with all the saints. God knew that Jeffrey’s life, strength, and story would have a transformative effect on all those who followed his journey from happy-go-lucky kid to guiding light for all of us on how to lead our lives in hope, love, resilience, and grace. We will never forget the lessons he taught us.