Monday, July 31, 2006

You Are My Sunshine

A week ago today we attended the funeral of the 5-year-old son of friends of ours. Gabriel was a sweet, beautiful boy and in my mind's eye, I see his wide smile and dimples even now.

One of my favorite memories of him is when we brought our dogs over to their house for a doggie playdate (with their dog, Luna). Our geriatric hound George, not one for socializing much with other dogs, let the other dogs run around the yard while he hung out on the living room floor while Gabe (then about 2) petted him and played with his long ears; Gabe was instinctively gentle with old George and it seemed like George appreciated it. At one point, Gabe happily lay on his back, knees bent while he rubbed his feet around on George's back, enjoying (I think) the feel of the fur on his toes while George enjoyed the massage. At the time I thought, that kid will probably have a soft spot for basset hounds for the rest of his life. Both are gone now, George (of course) as expected, but Gabe not.

During the service the minister said some stuff like this isn't God's will, He didn't need another angel in heaven, and it's not for the best. I was glad to hear some of the more stupid cliches refuted, sparing us the sort of blather that Job's comforters should have been ashamed to utter, though I couldn't help but think, yeah, buddy, what do you know about God's will, anyway? (Then I thought, well, I guess it's job to know something about God's will. Me, I know next to nothing on the subject).

Those cliches are supposed to comfort, I suppose, because they counsel acceptance of the reality of the situation. But they also imply that if you aren't at peace with it (or if you're angry) you're Going Against God's Will. I believe that I can accept all kinds of ugly realities but I do NOT HAVE TO LIKE IT. God's will? He shouldn't have made me the way I am if He expects me to have anything positive to say about the death, of cancer, of a small child. To hell with that, Lord, and you can make a note on my Permanent Record for all I care.

I refuse to make sense of it.

I woke up the other morning and the thought came to me, What is it like to wake up on the morning of your child's funeral? So I got up. Which is what I suppose a parent in that situation has to do.

The truth of the matter is that I can only imagine what it's like. I just finished reading Paul Fussell's book about World War II and his final chapter is about how no one knows what combat is like unless they've experienced it. I put down the book and turned out the light and thought, well, isn't that as it should be? And shouldn't we be grateful that more of us haven't endured that sort of horror? But his point is that people tended to assume that just because they'd seen movies or read about it that they had some idea what had happened to their friend/husband/son/sweetheart who'd been in combat. So I intend to be grateful for my ignorance. And to keep that ignorance in mind when I talk to anybody who has seen combat or lost a child.

At the funeral we all sang "You Are My Sunshine," a song that John used to sing to his son. I think everyone cried--I know I did. I sang that song to my little girl when I got home, too, because I wanted to be sure that I could do it without crying. And I did, even though she asked me to sing it twice. I still have a hard time with the last line, "please don't take my sunshine away." That last part, I think, isn't addressed to the child (the "you" in the title) but to God. And I don't have words to express how much I put into that word, please. Please, God. Please.