Joys and sorrows

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    Pam Linn

    My son, Bobby, was mad at God. All he could say was, why? For more than a week, he cried most of the day and cried himself to sleep at night. I thanked God it’s okay for cowboys to cry.

    I wasn’t mad at God. He didn’t command that poor misguided fool to drive his truck 100 miles an hour through a stop sign and into the pickup carrying Bobby’s daughter and her two friends. For that split second of reckless stupidity, he will probably suffer the rest of his life. He’s the one who might be asking, why? Jessica’s friends were still suffering in hospital. They also asked, why? Why her and not them?

    We are a family of many faiths, and we respect each other’s beliefs, and how and where we choose to express them. But we all agree on this: Jessica is with the angels she loved because that’s where she wanted to be now. And who are we to say it was too soon, or that her life was cut short. Or any of the other things people say when a child dies. Things we say to keep the guilt at bay. How did we fail her? Could we have done more? Maybe.

    Would it have made any difference? I don’t think so. We loved her; we took turns mothering her, trying to prepare her for life. She resisted our pleas to go slowly, to wait for this and that “until you’re older,” maybe because she knew somehow that she had signed on for just 16 years.

    Like many children of estranged parents, Jessica was torn by divided loyalties. She loved us all but had trouble putting down roots. The original Goodbye Girl, she needed to keep separating herself from us. It occurs to me now that she might have been practicing, letting us down gradually, so it would hurt less when she went for good. It didn’t.

    But if she ever had any roots, they were there in the garden of the old ranch house where she lived her first three years. There she rode her first tricycle, played with her first puppy, scolded her grandfather for yelling at her mom. So it was there Bobby wanted us to pay our last respects.

    The thing about having such a gathering at home is that it keeps everybody busy. Busy is good. And we had to debate every detail. Talking is good, too. We poured over dozens of pictures of Jessica-riding, swimming, helping her young cousin, Devon, with his pony and his sled, putting the angel on a Christmas tree, making snow angels in the mountains and sand angels at the beach-sorting out our memories with the photos. Her uncle arranged them in a huge frame around a prayer he wrote for her. This would be placed on her table with a glass angel, a serenity bowl and two vases of white orchids chosen by her aunts, who would both say a brief remembrance.

    Even though Bobby was still mad at God, he asked his sister to get the local minister to say a few words. Jessica had been so in touch with her spiritual side and, when she was 12, chose to be baptized in the little community church. She didn’t care about the denomination so much, just that she liked the pastor, and she had friends in the youth group there.

    And being of diverse faiths, we debated what the minister could say and not say, so nobody should be offended. And of course that was futile. In the end everyone was crying and hardly heard what he said anyway. We even debated what we should call it. Definitely not a funeral or even a memorial. And surely she was too young for it to be a wake, more fitting for when old chums raise a glass to the dear departed, gone to his just reward. So we settled on simply a gathering.

    I was assigned to do flowers, which was the perfect way to keep me busy. And my favorite former daughter-in-law, who also had mothered Jessica for a time, offered to do up a huge deli platter, and my sister would make brownies. Then Bobby reminded us that there would be way too much food because everybody would bring something. “That’s what country people do,” he said. And, of course, he was right.

    And so, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, about 90 of Bobby’s friends came to the ranch to help him say goodbye. Many of them had been there in the same garden for his father’s wake a dozen years before. It seemed extraordinary to me, this simple act of support and affection. Sympathy is good. Like a hug, it helps you feel everything you’ve been holding back, allowing all the joys and sorrows to be remembered and released.

    Now Bobby isn’t mad at God anymore.

    My sincere thanks to everyone at the Times and the many readers who called, sent cards and e-mails. It helped so much to know you cared.