All Souls’ Day Thoughts on the Death of my Son

Death takes us by surprise
And stays our hurrying feet;
The great design unfinished lies,
Our lives are incomplete.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

4:00 a.m. on All Souls’ Day, November 2, a day for remembering and honoring the loved ones we lost, as prescribed by the Catholic church. There are other days and reasons for doing this, as any day can be one of remembrance, but today has been officially designated for prayers for those referred to as our “faithful departed” and for offering Masses.

In a sane and logical world, my son should be the one offering prayers for me. Instead its me who shall pray for him. No, that’s not right either. He doesn’t need our prayers as he died before reaching what is considered “the age of accountability” and therefore, by Catholic doctrine, died in a state of grace and went straight to heaven. He was just six years old, a few weeks short of his 7th birthday, and would have been a teenager by now. I will go to early Mass and then visit his grave with his mother and sisters. Prayers will be said, but more for our sake, those he left behind.

We miss him so much, and the years have not dulled the pain of loss. The grief becomes sharper on days like this. He was the center of our lives. On my side of the family, out of thirteen grandchildren (and more on the way), he was the only boy. And so I feel, like many a grieving parent, stripped of my past and robbed of my future.

“He is in God’s hands” or “You have an angel with the Lord” offer scant comfort. I would rather he be with us, breathing, laughing, just being himself. I accidentally came across this paragraph from the biography of the late actor Anthony Quinn, describing his first-born son who also died of drowning, which perfectly describes my Lui too and my feelings for him:

“God, how I worshipped that boy! He was like a fantastic fulcrum, around which our world could tilt and turn. It was incredible to me, and quite wonderful, the way our entire household pulsed to his doings, the way he could fill a room even in his sleep. He was everything — my flesh, my love, my hope for the future. He loved unconditionally. He was all we talked about, and all that mattered. He was, truly, a delightful child. Most proud fathers could toss off the same line without thinking about it, but I have thought about it. I think about it still, and I do not say it lightly. Christopher was a sunny slice of magic, gifted to us when we needed him the most and taken from us long before we were through.

Christ, he was just a child.”

He wrote those loving, anguished words nearly 50 years after his son’s death and his heartbreak was as fresh and raw as if it just happened to him the day before.

We never stop grieving, and, like Edna St. Vincent Millay,

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

I see, always with a pang of longing, children who remind me of how he was or would have been now. And I echo the words of poet Ricky de Ungria, also a grieving dad:

“What are these words for ?

You are everywhere inside me
inside me

and nowhere.”


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