by Margaret Kramar
For those who have lost a child, Easter is the shining beacon of resurrection and eternal life. The promise of being together again someday. The love that never dies.
But what about Lent?
The trees are bare, and a cold wind rattles through the dry branches, day after day. The soft white snow that blanketed the season of Christmas has given way to patches of dirty snow, exposing the sere and lifeless ground.
The evenings are getting lighter, but the nights are still dark and too long. We collapse into ourselves, waiting for the morning.
A month before Spenser died, the weather acted like it usually does in Kansas at the end of March, with sputtering winds and skies cast in steel gray.
On such a day, we transplanted iris roots into the heavy wet soil of our hillside. My husband and I dragged them in heavy sacks and fetched trowels.
Silhouetted against the grey sky, Spenser sat on the bare ground at the top of the hill. “Spenser, can’t you help?” I scooped aside some dirt and laid down the rhizome with its hairy roots in a shallow depression.
Spenser seemed forlorn, crying out to me without using any words. Jabbing my trowel again into the earth, I could see that getting Spenser to help with these irises was hopeless. He seemed tired, and his heart just wasn’t in it.
A few weeks later, at the school carnival, I arrived at my station with the plastic toy fish in the wading pool. The other children ran through the playground, but Spenser stayed behind, perched next to me on a straw bale.
“Don’t you want to do anything? Don’t you at least want to get your face painted?”
Spenser sat still and didn’t seem to be thinking or feeling anything other than the anguish he communicated through his eyes.
Within two weeks, Spenser was dead.
When I gave him his bath on a Sunday night, I regarded with horror how his body had become misshapen, and a large tumor pushed out his sternum.
In the emergency room, an x-ray revealed that tumors had invaded many of his internal organs. His heart stopped beating the next day, on Monday afternoon.
Because he had been tired for a month, we did take him to the doctor the Tuesday before he died. She gave him a prescription for a sinus infection, nothing more.
As we approach the anniversary of his death, Lent is the season that we blame ourselves for not realizing sooner that he was sick, even though the doctor later assured us that with such an aggressive tumor, no one had any warning. He had been tired, just tired for about a month, but why didn’t we know?
Lent is the season that we remember that he did once point to his chest and said, “It hurts,” but because he never mentioned it again, we assumed it was a stitch in his side.
Lent is the season when we wonder if we somehow could have prevented his cancer, whether we were poisoning him with herbicides, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals we consume every day.
With Lent comes the realization that even if we had another child, through birth or adoption, no child would ever replace him.
The season of Lent foretells Easter, so we establish memorials in his name, by planting trees, donating to charities, creating a scholarship, and engraving his name into memorial bricks.
But the stark carved letters do not answer us with his voice, and sometimes it is all just too exhausting.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness during Lent, wrestling with evil, all alone. We know that we are supposed to face the world with a smile, but we are captive to dark thoughts.
We watch other parents hiding Easter eggs, pushing their children on swings, or laughing together at the zoo and wonder why they were spared.
We watch his classmates cross the stage in cap and gown during graduation to receive their diplomas, while we clutch a program which states “In Memoriam” after his name.
Years later, we leave the theatre early because we can no longer bear watching the teenage actors on stage who were in the same summer theatre camp with him when they were all about ten years old.
No, we don’t want to celebrate and pose for pictures with the cast. Instead, we dash across the parking lot, choking back tears.
We thought we would be over his death by now, but we are not.
Why did we assume our sadness would never be triggered again?
Lent. A time of fasting, prayer, and contemplation, when we are faced with realizations that we would rather flee.
Outside my window, the blades of the irises are pushing up through the cold soil on the hillside, along with new daffodils, hyacinths and bluebells I planted in the fall.
I buried those bulbs underneath fallen leaves, plunging my trowel into the black earth, again and again.