A few days ago, out of nowhere, Bryce randomly let me know that he thought it was time for him to sell his Camaro. Anyone who knows my husband knows that he loves cars, especially fast ones…. Especially this Camaro.
He bought his Camaro when we were pregnant with Mason, and was so excited to hold onto it until Mason would be old enough to have it. A father and son experience that Bryce never had with his own father, and which he unfortunately was never destined to have with Mason.
It was a cold rainy night in March when Mason died. Bryce and I were just going up to bed for the night a few minutes after midnight. I’d checked on Mason less than an hour before, and as I got ready to go to sleep, I bent over his pack n’ play bassinette in our room to kiss him goodnight. But as I touched my lips to his sweet chubby little cheeks, the chill in them told me all I needed to know… In the hour since I checked on him last, he had somehow slipped away and died. Laying right there in that sleep safe environment, on his back, with no blankets, no toys, no pillows…. Even though I’d done everything “right”… my baby died.
I stumbled backwards from the pack ‘n play screaming to Bryce, “Oh my God, the baby is dead! THE BABY IS DEAD! MASON IS DEAD!” Why I didn’t pick him up, I’ll never know… I stood there… frozen. All I could do was scream. Bryce pushed me aside and picked him up, held him to his chest, and let out a scream I have never heard before (and hope I will I never hear again), that can only be described as a primal howling- like the sound of an injured animal.
And as soon as his howling stopped, he ran out of our bedroom with Mason in his arms screaming, “I’m taking him to the doctor.” Without shoes or a coat, he jumped into his Camaro with his baby in his arms and tore out of the driveway with such speed that I was terrified I would be having a funeral for both of them.
I’ll never know what happened inside of his car that night. But what I do know is that as I ran in the house to get my phone to call my parents, I glanced down and saw the time was 12:06, and Mason’s hospital admission paperwork said they arrived at 12:08am. A drive full of roundabouts, in freezing rain, that should have taken Bryce 10 minutes or more. A drive that I’m confident Bryce survived only because God protected him in his pain and wreckless driving.
I tell you all of this, dear reader, so that you can attempt to wrap your head around Bryce’s deep-rooted painful reason for keeping the car. It’s the last place he had Mason in his arms. The last place where he had Hope. Once I got to the hospital, and he realized that Mason wasn’t there anymore, and that what we were holding and screaming over was simply an empty little vessel that had once belonged to our baby… Bryce had run out of Hope. And so had I.
When we got home in the early hours of the morning; after the police, CPS and detectives had left, Bryce got on his computer and immediately started ordering a decal for his Camaro. A decal to honor Mason, remember Mason, and something that Bryce said would “make it so we never forget.”
The car became a bitter memory of the worst night of our lives, and the pain that can only be compared to what I imagine Hell feels like. Bryce didn’t drive it for a long time. It became quite literally a very expensive, painful memorial.
I remember Bryce continuing to tell me that we would never forget him, and looking at the decal on his car and thinking, “Are we focused on not forgetting Mason? Or are we being constantly reminded of this excrutiating pain?” It was a sentiment I kept to myself, because our grief was so new… I didn’t know what the “right” way to handle any of this was.
I think that car has held Bryce (and I) hostage to a situation where we felt utterly and completely hopeless. A car meant to be passed on to his firstborn son that will never be passed on to him is a brutal reminder of this agony on a daily basis. The sticker, once shiny and new, peels off now, as a somber reminder that it’s been nearly four years since our sweet Mason left us.
And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that every time Bryce gets into that car he feels pain and sorrow. How could he not?
I think as people we are conditioned to attach emotions and sentiment to objects. Especially when it comes to such a taboo subject– Infant loss isn’t an easy subject to discuss. Bryce’s friends didn’t have a clue what he was going through or how to help, and even though everyone tried as best as they could to help him (to help our entire family), no one quite knew what to do. And so this Camaro memorial was supposed to provide healing… but ended up keeping us (especially Bryce) trapped in pain.
This is hard to admit—especially as a man. We aren’t supposed to be swept up in emotion. We’ve been reminded on more than occasion in sermons from our pastor, Pastor Dave, that emotions lie to you. They trick you. And to have emotions like this be so all-consuming, and so many years later, makes it feel like you’re a failure. Especially when you realize that what you thought was helpful, was actually a painful roadblock- keeping you separated from where you are and where you are supposed to be.
We don’t need to be emotionally chained to that horrible night in March. I don’t need to remember it with picture perfect clarity, detail by detail. We don’t need to remember the profound pain, the devastating heartache, the immeasurable sense of loss.
We need to remember moments.
The memories. The photos. The videos.
These moments can only be remembered when we have a heart that is content.
I’ve finally been able to separate memories from emotions. I’m finally at a place where I can write about him, talk about him, look at pictures of him, and remember him without feeling excrutiating pain. I could even write this without crying.
After years of painful, nearly constant self-questioning and endless nights of playing the “What if? Game” trying to figure out if I could have possibly intervened to save my sweet, precious baby boy, I’ve come to find that the answer is no. No, I could not have saved him, prevented it, or helped the situation in any way.
I know this because Psalm 139:16 tells us – Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before on of them came to be.
It’s a verse I’ve pondered many times over the last year, most recently with a dear friend of mine who lost her 29-year-old son just a few months ago. Every moment of our lives has already been written, the beginning and the end (and all of the moments in between) are already known to our God who planned it all.
I used to be bitter with God. If it was all a part of his plan then how could I ever love or worship or even BELIEVE in this God?? Why would this happen to me? I know that these questions are the reason Bryce was an atheist after Mason’s death… It was incomprehensible how any God could allow us to withstand this kind of pain.
Just like Job, some of us are tested in ways that seem extreme compared to the way others appear to be tested. (For those who aren’t familiar with the book of Job, here’s a summary: https://www.gci.org/bible/job/trial )
I grew up in a football obsessed, Indianapolis Colts-loving home. My dad has gone to every Colts game, with the exception of three, since the team came to Indianapolis. Through the years, I often heard my dad talking about how angry he was when “fair weather fans” would show up during a good season, hogging all the seats and calling themselves the “biggest Colts fan ever”; and then abandon the team, not buying tickets or coming to the events, during the bad seasons. I remember my dad being so incredibly frustrated with this, and telling me on more than one occasion that I should never be a fair weather fan—you stick with your team whether they are good or bad. Because that’s honor and commitment.
I can’t help but be reminded of this as I think about the times of trial in our own lives… the times where we are tested, and struggling beyond measure. Times when most people choose to “give up on God”…. When we have a need we ASK God. When we get our need fulfilled we PRAISE God. But when we don’t get what we want… we decide God isn’t worth our time? We choose not to honor our commitment to God? Seems a lot like the “fair weather fans” my dad warned me about when I was younger.
Is it fair to be excited about God only when things are going our way or when things are okay? Is it okay to walk away from God, or refuse to believe in him at all, just because things haven’t gone our way? Because we’ve experienced an all-consuming pain, immeasurable hurt, or a devastating tragedy? Isn’t this being a fair weather fan?
God’s lessons are everywhere… Whether tucked into the memories of nearly three decades of football talk from your dad, or buried in an object filled with emotions and regrets and pain that you just can’t let go.
If we could all learn to embrace the good memories, let go of the pain, and trust God, even in the bad times, we may discover the emotional freedom that we’ve long been searching for.
So, as we sell the Camaro and move on from that emotional prison, we will remember our moments with Mason. And we will thank God for them.
Over the last few weeks, scripture from the book of Galatians has been popping up everywhere for us, from the bookstore, to a coffee cup I like, to a bumper sticker on a car in front of me on the interstate, to being referenced in the church worship guide on two separate occasions…. We just can’t stop running into Galatians 6:9:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
I don’t know that I would have learned any of these important lessons, or been able to receive any of what God has to teach me, if I hadn’t experienced the pain and hopelessness and brokenness of some of the hardest experiences of my life.
Today, I chose to remember Mason’s life, and let go of the pain..
Won’t you join me by doing this in your own lives?
If you find yourself in need of a little hope, I encourage you to seek comfort in scripture:
But if we hope for what is still unseen by us, we wait for it with patience and composure. Romans 8:25
For whatever was thus written in former days was written for our instruction, that by endurance and the encouragement from the Scriptures we might hold fast to and cherish hope. Romans 15:4
May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing with hope. Romans 15:3