Comforted in Her Grief

A treasured memory reassures a grieving mother that her departed son is at peace.

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Posted in , Jun 15, 2015

A ski gondola rises, with heavenly streams of light pouring down

Ordinary thoughts consumed me while waiting for the light to change. Student essays to grade. What to make for dinner. The weekend ahead.

Then a whiff of cigarette smoke drifted into the car.

My son, Kyle, was a smoker. The weight of all my grief crushed me once again. Ten months ago, while my husband, Alan, and I were out of town, Kyle, who was 22, died of a heroin overdose.

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I drove the rest of the way home aching to have my son back, though life for him was never easy. In elementary school he was diagnosed with numerous learning disabilities, and then depression. Growing up he cycled through a whirlwind of medications as we tried to find him some relief. At 19, he struggled with alcohol and drugs, taking matters into his own hands.

The roller coaster never stopped, for him or us. He was in college studying architecture when he had a breakdown and was identified as bipolar/schizophrenic. We had searched Kyle’s whole life for a clear diagnosis and this one answered so many questions. Through it all, we were close.

As I pulled into the driveway I remembered an afternoon when Kyle was still in high school, the same high school where I taught English and drama. Kyle found me in the school theater with the cast. “I just got called into work,” he said. “I’ll see you at home later.”

“Let’s hurry with those props!” I called to the students on stage. Then I remembered it was make-up day for senior pictures. He’d missed his chance the first time. “Kyle, did you get that picture taken?”

Kyle smacked his forehead. “I forgot. I’m sorry, Mom.”

I sighed. This was it. I’d have no senior picture.

“Tell you what,” Kyle said, giving me a friendly punch on the arm. “I’ll dress up later and you can take one.”

Sure, I thought. I walked toward the stage. Kyle followed. “Don’t worry. I promise you’ll get a picture of me that you really like.”

I stopped and waved to the drama kids. “Did everyone hear that promise?” I yelled.

“We heard it!” they all chimed in.

Kyle grinned and I melted. “That’s the smile I want on film, Kyle. Now get to work.”

There’ll be no more pictures now, I thought, pulling a tissue from my purse as I walked into the house. I missed him so much. How could a mother ever let go of her child? I went into the study and opened the picture folder on my laptop.

In the last months of his life, Kyle seemed to find some measure of peace. The right medications enabled him to function, and he returned to college, this time to study history. “All that math you need to major in architecture was too stressful,” he told us. We were thrilled for him.

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On his December break from school, the three of us took a trip to Mammoth Mountain. Alan snapped a great picture of Kyle and me in the gondola. High above the snowy peaks we were in our own happy bubble. I enlarged the photo to full screen on my computer. Kyle was smiling and handsome, healthy and content, finally, just as I’d always wished for him. I thought the worst was behind us, but a few months later he was gone. Had he stopped taking his meds? Had his demons returned? Had he tried to keep them away with drugs? I’d never know. All I knew was he was taken from me. Would my heart ever mend?

Tina and Kyle up among the clouds at Mammoth MountainI hit the print setup button and chose wallet-size so I could carry this gondola memory with me wherever I went. I clicked Print. But nothing happened. I crawled under the desk to check the connection, then tried again. This time the paper slid through the rollers.

Little by little the picture took shape, but with white streaks across it. I crumpled it up and threw it away. Why did this have to be so difficult? Before bed I asked Alan if he’d have a look at the printer when he got a chance. We probably needed a new ink cartridge. I wanted Kyle here with me. Was that so much to ask?

The next day at school I finished correcting some essays. “Could you print me out a grade report?” I asked my teacher’s assistant, handing her my laptop. Soon I heard the familiar hum of the printer. I made a mental note to pick up that cartridge after school. I didn’t want to go another day without the comfort of that precious photo in my wallet.

“Um, Ms. B?” my assistant mumbled. “There’s a photo printing out instead....”

I rushed over to see Kyle’s happy face. I suddenly imagined how peaceful Kyle must be right now in heaven, as if this picture was a window into that divine realm. If my son was at peace, I could be too. Wasn’t that what I’d prayed for? His happiness was all that mattered, and that’s what mended my heart.

I slipped the picture into my wallet, carrying it with me always. Kyle had kept his promise.

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