To My Son Peter,
On the April morning you departed us some twenty months ago, I was at work fifty miles away. My sister had texted me for your new address to send an Easter card, so I pulled up an online map of your neighborhood to check your zip code. I noticed the small county park with trails across the main road and behind the strip mall and told myself to tell you about it for walking your new dog, in case you hadn’t found it yet. I did not imagine you were soon to be heading there, gun in backpack.
I went back to my duties for a while until an overwhelming wave of peace made me stop what I was doing. I wondered where THAT sensation came from! I had only ever felt such profound serenity after deep, quiet meditation or prayer, never in the noisy bustle of my office. I turned back to my daily tasks. Within the hour, my cell phone rang. The policeman said there had been an acc –hesitated and changed it to — incident with my son. He then asked, “Do you know why he would do this?” Clueless, I asked, “Do what?” “Shoot himself,” he replied.
I believe your spirit came to me to say goodbye, to let me know you were at peace and intact.
Or else an angel came to gird me for the news I was about to receive. Only that sense kept me functioning over the next few harrowing days while we waited for the organ transplant teams. I knew that it was no longer you in that hospital bed, breathing mechanically. You had already left for another realm that morning by the stream, under the two trees that leaned together to make an arch.
A few weeks later in May, your fiancée gave me the Mother’s Day gift you had bought for me in advance, five novels of Charles Dickens, my favorite author, including A Christmas Carol. Dickens had such a heart for those who suffer due to cruelty, greed, and status-seeking in society. I think he would approve a twist to his classic morality tale.
If blessed with Dickens’ talent, I would pen “The Ghosts of Christmas Not to Come.”
First, the Angel of Mercy would lift you up and out of your own tremendous pain into the loving embrace of my departed mother who held a special place in her heart for you growing up. She would introduce you to her husband, my father, who took his life when I was a child. Of all people, he would understand what you were going through and rush in to soothe your self-condemnation with an infusion of love.
You would then be shown how those who had hurt you throughout your twenty-five years, intentionally or not, had been misled or had themselves been hurt in the past, and just did not know any better. This is your tour with the Angel of Empathy. These scenes play out before your eyes not to excuse anyone, as each will face his own life review and reckoning, but rather to explain what happened so you might understand and forgive them.
Then another spiritual guide would whisk you away to see and experience every tear of sorrow, pang of guilt, stab of rejection, and ache of abandonment your suicide caused person by person, for generations. This is the Angel of Justice, demonstrating that actions have consequences far beyond our short-sighted, narrow views. This fearful journey is not designed for your punishment, but for your instruction.
Next, the Angel of Promise would transport you to the life you would have lived, to take in a vision of your simple but beautiful wedding to your girlfriend of five years. You two were very good together and could have been better if only you had learned how to navigate rather than bury disagreements. You would meet and hold the children that you could have raised together in love, if only you had loved yourself. I remember you picked the house you bought together by the school system, so your one-day children could have a good education. You might have become a voice for the environment and the animals that depend on humans to provide space for their survival, if only you had not seen yourself as less than motivated, smart, and capable. Your professor said you had a terrific mind, and he expected to hear you had done good things for the earth and its creatures one day.
Once you had gained a panoramic perspective over the span of your life and that of those you impacted, you would be transported into the presence of the All-wise. Based on all you had seen, God would ask you to weigh the achievements and joys you had foregone against the difficulties and distress you faced, and to decide if you were mistaken when you wrote “life seems like too much of a burden” in your last note to me.
I don’t know if you’ll get the opportunity to return to earth in some form with your newfound knowledge and decision, but if you do, I pray that you never do such a thing to your priceless and irreplaceable self again, or to those who love you. Instead, you let your loved ones help you to find a better way.
The last time I saw you in person, we all ate cake in your home for your older brother’s birthday, ten days before you died. For some reason, I brought up in conversation Frank Capra’s classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, surprised to learn none of you twenty-somethings had seen it. You all said it was crazy to watch a Christmas movie in April, and I would have to wait until December for a chance to get us all together to see it. Your birthday’s just before Christmas, so we plan to watch it then. From your vantage point, I hope you can see it on the big screen and help us all take to heart what really matters in this life and the next. I believe that’s the way to earn your wings!