Chapter 21

During the weeks following Jeff's death we received many beautiful plants, cards, and letters and people poured out their thoughts and feelings to us. What we felt from them was genuine love and concern. The couple Jeff had been ring bearer for the previous fall gave us a lovely rose bush to plant in memory of our son. How lovely to know that each spring as those beautiful roses bloom, we can concentrate on our many memories of Jeff. It has also been nice, on different occasions, to make up a rose bowl of those beautiful yellow roses and share some of 'Jeff's roses' with a sick or downcast friend.

One of the most difficult things I had to do following Jeff's death was to go and buy groceries. I'm sure every mother finds one particular job the most difficult to get back to. I had, for many, many months, been concentrating on buying all of Jeff's favorite foods to keep him eating well, and I found I could not even go up the aisles of the grocery store without becoming really sick to my stomach. In fact, the first trip to the grocery store, I ended up having to leave without even getting my groceries. I headed straight for home and went to my knees and asked Christ to give me extra strength to complete my tasks as a wife and mother.

If there would be any advice I could give to someone going through the grief of losing their child, it would be to give yourself time to mourn. No one can tell another how long that time will be -- it just takes as long as it takes! There will be times when you think you are losing your mind, but those were the times I was so very thankful I could call out immediately to my Heavenly Father and ask for new strength and peace from Him. Sometimes there are even physical symptoms and you feel really ill. This is normal; anyone who has grieved deeply will tell you this is so.

I have discovered the memories a person has after a loved one leaves are very special. They hurt very much at first, but with time, the tears you experience as you walk into a room and see an empty chair, or a certain favorite toy laying discarded, or a toothbrush that is no longer used, eventually these memories can become joyful as you recall the happy previous days of zestful living. I personally feel it is best not to do away with things that remind you of your loved one, at least not right away. It helps to simply deal with it on a daily basis until it stops hurting and becomes only a gentle reminder of what you as a family were allowed to share, even if it was only for a few short years. Jeff crammed a tremendous amount of living into the eight short years he was given.

There was a little song that was sung repeatedly on the radio during 1979, the International Year of the Child. The words went like this:

"Child of Mine, Child of Mine,

Oh sweet darling, I'm so glad you are a child of mine".

It was an advertisement for a foster parents plan but somehow every time I heard this song, and it was usually played right at bedtime, the tears flowed freely.

Jamie really felt the loss of his brother. Jeff had been much more than just his brother; he also was Jamie's best friend, his protector, his confidant, and his hero. We had always striven for the boys to be very close and now the hurt in the severence of this relationship was very great in Jamie's young life. He had a special way of showing me when he was hurting the most. He'd come downstairs in the morning wearing a shirt or something that had belonged to Jeff. I quickly realized that this somehow made him feel a little closer to his 'lost brother' and therefore left a few of Jeff's things in a readily available spot for him.

I found him one day laying on the floor beside his bed with Jeff's wallet opened to some pictures of the two of them. He was running his fingers lovingly over Jeff's photograph. Many times I would quietly breathe a prayer asking for guidance in how to deal with Jamie's grief. He just couldn't understand why Jesus would decide to take Jeff when he had prayed so hard that God would heal him. I did not want bitterness towards God to enter Jamie's heart and could see this as a possibility. One day he asked, "Mommy, do you think Jesus would just let Jeffy come down and go to the carnival with me, just for a couple of hours?" He continually worried that Jeff "would really like the playgrounds in heaven".

One night, when Jamie was fevered and sick with flu, he asked me if he would die when he was eight. Then he asked me the name of Jeff's disease. When I told him, he replied, "Ya cancer! Why did somebody from our house have to get it?" I assured him that it was very unlikely he would get as sick as Jeff had been, and then he said, "Well, if I do live to be an old man, will Jesus tell Jeff who I am when I get to heaven because Jeff won't recognize me?" Once again, I assured him that as soon as Jeff saw him, he'd know him because the Bible told us so.

A few months after this little talk together, Jamie's little hamster, Shiney, died. He ran to his room and sobbed as he said over and over again, "Everything I ever loved has died -- my brother, my goldfish, and now Shiney!" He and his daddy made a little cross, and painted it silver, and Jamie printed Shiney's name on the cross. He and Jerry had a little burial service out in our garden one cold, rainy November night.

Jamie's first week in Grade I was difficult It broke my heart to watch a sad little boy head down the street all by himself, no big brother to walk along with him and take care of him. About three months after Jeff's death, on a Sunday morning, Jamie was cuddled up beside me in bed, and we were having our early morning chat and sharing time. Jerry had already left for work. My little son's question that morning was, "Mommy, why did that man put Jeff in a box and bury him in the ground?" He did not understand us talking about Jeff being in heaven and yet his body had been buried. Breathing a prayer for divine wisdom to deal with this, I gave Jamie a quick hug and asked, "Who did I just hug?" He giggled and said, "Jamie, silly!" I replied, "Well honey, what I really hugged was the little house God gave Jamie to live in while he's on earth". I tried to explain to him that if a person serves God and has consecrated his life to God, that when he dies, when the Lord Himself decides He wants that person to come and be with Him forever, then the little 'house' is no longer needed. I explained that the rules on earth are that a man called an undertaker has to come and put that 'little house' in a casket and bury it in the ground because it really has no more purpose. That seemed to satisfy him, but questions continued to be asked constantly and it made me realize how often his little heart was heavy. Six years of age is a very tender time to have to learn one of life's hardest lessons.

The thought continued to haunt me concerning Jeff's last words to me the day before he died, when he asked me to "please come faster tomorrow". However, one evening sitting together around a campfire with Faye and Terry, Terry consoled me with these words. He said, "Joan, you have to remember time has no essence in heaven. It will seem to Jeff only a short time until he sees you". I realize, however, it will seem a longer time for us and I think often of the scripture, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning", Psalm 30:5.

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© Joan McMillan #297587

This page was created April 21st 1997. It is maintained by Jonathan McMillan and Joan McMillan