To laugh again . . .
The first time I saw Sawyer the night of the bus crash was most the surreal moment of that evening. I already knew that Reed was gone, as did Daniel, but neither thought the other knew, as we were trying to protect the other one and deal with the horrors right in front of us. Wrapped in warm blankets to keep him from going into shock and barely lucid as medications were keeping him in a state of medically induced numbness, all that was exposed when I leaned over to kiss him were his face and ears, every inch wrapped tight. Before my lips reached his forehead, my eyes saw his ears filled with glass and bright yellow bus paint. This was much worse than the broken leg I had been told at the school. When I arrived at the hospital with my pastor and his wife along with two teacher friends, all I wanted to do was see Reed. I didn’t love Sawyer any less, but shattered bones heal. My heart longed to prove the news of our redheaded boy wrong, a case of mistaken identity. The hospital staff would not let me see Reed until I saw Sawyer because there were decisions we needed to make to save his life. When I saw the horrors of the day filling his precious ears, ones that look exactly like his grandfather’s, all the remaining joy from my world was sucked away.
The next morning when the nurses came to give Sawyer his first “bath”, they wanted to wash away the very visual reminders that still lingered. A tray full of glass fell out of his thick hair, and when they turned him over, other than those chubby, signature cheeks, there wasn’t a spot not covered in bruises, cuts, or stitches. For over a day, we were able to keep the news of Reed’s death away from him. Then an incident that I share more in depth in my upcoming book happened, and we knew that we were not going to be able to hold our secret much longer. The rest of the world was going on as we were suspended in some kind of distorted reality. He was in so much pain, and we wanted to insulate him from more.
Meeting with the grief counselor before we talked with him, I remember very distinctly saying that someday our family would laugh again. Our counselor, Mark, wiped away tears as he remarked we were incredibly strong people (I felt anything but strong) and how he was moved by our faith. We had some choices to make about our next steps, along with the words we would use to explain Reed’s absence, and our determination focused on how we would not ever let this define us, we would not allow our house (whenever we could return there) become a place of overwhelming sadness, and we would always let our love of Jesus carry us through. Visual images of Jesus laughing with little children became a real driving force in the days we endured. This could not have been more real than at the conclusion of Reed’s Celebration of Life. As the casket containing his earthly body was wheeled away, we had asked for the Star Wars theme to be played. Tears of sadness turned to tears of laughter as those present recognized the familiar tune, while our three pastors presided over the whole affair with light sabers. We could only imagine that Reed and Jesus laughed.
The first month, very little laughing, especially purposeful belly chuckling, occurred. As much as I wanted to crawl in a hole and lay next to Reed, I knew what that would say to our other children. No matter how badly we hurt, I did not want them to ever feel that they were second best, and there would be nothing worth living for now that our oldest was gone. While convalescing at home, we watched many movies to fill our minutes, the very minutes we were living through one by one. Although there were probably many opportunities to laugh, it didn’t come as naturally as it once did.
I remember very distinctly the first belly chuckle laugh that came bubbling out, despite my wanting it to. Even though we had made those promises to our future at the hospital, I wasn’t ready to live again when I really did laugh. I felt almost guilty doing so, because Reed would never laugh again. Sawyer was hurting so much we were willing to loosen our parental veto to let him watch a television show that I would not normally approve, and even Grandma said nothing about the show’s snarky sass. If you like The Simpson’s, this is not meant as a judgment, it simply wasn’t the type of show I wanted my eleven-year-old watching. He, however, found it amusing in his swirling cloud of pain medications.
I have a really bad habit of zeroing in on things that tickle my funny bone about the same time I am drinking something. Not very lady-like, but more than once, I have snorted sweet tea through my nose because of this unfortunate timing. Somehow this very thing would have produced rolling on the floor giggles from both my boys. This was no exception during the opening for the cartoon which snuck right up on me. As Marge flips through the mail containing a postcard from some exotic place, she reads the penned words while the audience sees the picture on the front featuring a voluptuous bikini-clad brunette with the words, “Wish you were her”. No that is not a typo on my part, nor is the humor all that funny, but at that moment a tea-snorting chuckle came bursting forth despite my best efforts to hold it in.
Until that moment, our nights had been sleepless, filled with agonizing pain-induced screams and night terrors and our days with sadness, grief, being overwhelmed, and bitterness. I did not want to laugh because I wasn’t ready to replace those things with something as ridiculous as base humor.
However, through the prayers of many and the determination to not merely survive, laugh I did! It was a pivotal point of new beginnings, replacing all those negative things with love filled ones. More chuckles and laughs came (as did more tears), until eventually the day came when we laughed so hard we cried. After that came the point where we looked for ways to make other people laugh, something for a while I never fathomed possible. I am incredibly thankful God had other plans as those moments of joy did finally come.
Hoping laughter finds you in your corner of the world today.