It was five years ago today that my son Joshua died. As has become common at this time of year my thoughts of him are vivid and more frequent than ever. A couple of weeks ago my wife and two daughters and I attended a weekend retreat sponsored by the military for parents and siblings of someone who has died while in the military. There were about 40 families each with their own story. I talked to fathers and mothers who also lost their sons or daughters. Someone said that we are part of a club we wish would never have another member. But we know there will be. On my daily commute to work there are electronic signs that give the drive time for certain routes, weather reports, accidents etc. On some days they simply note how many traffic deaths have occurred in Michigan so far this year. The current total is 624. The number is staggering and it gives me pause as I drive to work thinking of all the families involved. At Baker alone we have had two people die in traffic accidents in the past few years. In addition to that one of my coworkers recently lost his wife. Another has suffered a miscarriage. Death is painful and ugly. It leaves wounds which, while they may heal with time, will always leave a scar. So what helps me? Remembering. Joshua is gone but his memory is still very much alive and when I remember him it helps me get through the darker nights. I’ve shared memories before but allow me to share one more.
For several mornings I noticed it was getting increasing difficult to get Joshua up for school. He kept insisting he just wasn’t sleeping well. One night I got up and happened to look in his room. It was about 2:00 a.m. and, you guessed it, he wasn’t there. I was livid–and worried. I stayed up and then about 4:00 a.m. I heard some noise from his room. When I went in I confronted him and he confessed he had been sneaking out of his window and meeting a friend. Fortunately they weren’t being too mischievous but simply “hanging out.” That ended that night. He made a lot of mistakes as many boys do. He spent time in detention and was brought home more than once in a police car. About a year before he died he said to me, “Dad, you know everything you’ve told me was right. I simply had to learn it the hard way.” After the birth of his daughter I noticed a distinct change in him. He was now a father and he was going to be responsible. I saw maturity grow in him faster than ever. He made me proud. For me September 18th will always be a painful day but memories help me get through it. The picture below is a selfie of him. It is one of my favorites. He was quite the ham. Many say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. That’s fine. I’m proud to be that tree.