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Unexpected Loss, Unexpected First


In the year and a half since losing Sam, I thought we had been through all the “firsts.” Firsts, mean passing through days of significance for the first time without Sam. They are those prominent days where being together as a family should complete the day, and one member missing destroys it. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day were especially tough. Firsts are also those landmark days in a kid’s journey through life. The end of the school year snuck up on me with unexpected sadness. The day he could have tested for a driver’s license, or cut loose on the dancefloor at a friend’s wedding, remind me there are many days of significance in a young person’s life and we will have to grieve those as they come.

Sam’s birthday was tough too, but we did it well. Natalie got a tattoo of Sam’s prosthetic leg while in San Diego, his favorite surf town. Of course, the first anniversary of Sam's death came with what felt like a dark cloud over an empty valley. We've passed several firsts without Sam. The second time through shows minimal improvement.

I thought we had been through all the firsts, until two weeks ago. On February 11th, my nephew on Bob’s side of the family died in his sleep at age 29.

He is the first family member to join Sam in heaven. A first we hadn’t anticipated.

Christopher Duclos was the youngest child of Bob’s oldest sister, and cousin to Sam and Natalie. With three older siblings and eight nieces and nephews, Chris was the single uncle who made kids laugh and treated each one as special. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Chris. We weren’t close, but his rich relationships with friends and family defined his life.

He loved well.

Chris’s memorial service was one of those events that made me wish I had spent more time with him. Through all the stories and some of his own writings, it was clear Chris had a big heart and he loved to laugh. He was also a bit mischievous, and seemed to have an uncommon connection with people older than he was when he was young. His former youth pastor talked about a midnight fiasco at summer camp when he’d lost all control of a cabin full of boys. Chris, 14 at the time, gently approached his defeated leader and said, “Someone looks like he needs a hug.”

As the stories were told, I thought, that sounds a little bit like Sam. They would have had fun together.

Loss is brutal. It puts us through shock, denial, anger, extreme fatigue, deep sadness, and intensely raw pain. But as we come out of the darkest dark first days and weeks after the loss, I have found some mercy in the emergence of wonder.

We don’t know what heaven is like and we desperately desire a glimpse of our kids, an assurance of their heavenly well-being. I sometimes carry an irrational fear of Sam feeling all alone up there. I see that same fear especially strong in my friends who’ve lost much younger kids to cancer.

In an effort to cope with the loss of two young members of the Day family,

I choose to wonder.

I wonder what Sam might have said to Chris as he entered heaven. “Hey, what are you doing here? I thought Grandma or Grandpa were coming next.”

Did Sam show him around, introducing him to all the world leaders he’s met? Are they getting into mischief and using their like-minded charm and humor to break the rules for the sake of having a good time? Do they have a secret handshake or inside joke? Are they making fun of us? Entertained by us? Or wishing we could stop crying?

What can they do with their newly restored bodies? I imagine a “dude watch this,” followed by Jordan like leaps and Jackson like dance moves.

How hard can you laugh in heaven?

My thoughts don’t make a lot of sense and I fear those who have not lost a child will consider them foolish. But I appreciate how my ability to wonder offers a soft blanket to an unbearable reality for the Day/Duclos family. Indulging in wonder might be one of my favorite coping strategies. I don't need the answers. Let me enjoy the wonder.

Some people spend a lot of energy trying to decide whether or not to believe in spiritual mysteries and realities we can’t know the answer to this side of heaven. While the Day family cousins, Sam and Chris, are now the experts on all things spiritual, I will lean into my daydreams about their connection in heaven.

I will wonder.