Five years ago I sat in the front row of my parish church, in front of the icon of the Theotokos, and came to the realization that Theresa's cancer journey was not going to end well. I've written about this before, but to serve as a refresher, I used to pray the Orthodox prayer for the sick daily for Theresa. In that prayer we pray: "Who are able to put aside every sickness and infirmity, do You Yourself, the same Lord, grant aid to Your servant and cure them of every sickness of which he/she is grieved; and send down up them Your great mercy, and if to be Your will, give to them health and a complete recovery...." From June to October I would always leave off the If It Be Your Will part. But on that October day I prayed the complete prayer and had a calm pass over me even though accepting His will was not going to coincide with what my will would have been.
From that day until the present day, I have worked hard to try and help Ryan move forward. From October to April the focus was preparing him for that moment when his mom was taken away from him. From April to now it has been preparing him for life without his Mom and getting him to realize his full potential, despite all of the sad things that took place.
The journey forward has not been an easy one. There have been moments over the past five years when I was mad about being the one left behind, the one left to pick up the pieces and go forward. I have thought back to how much stronger my faith was in 2015 and how being called home to The Holy Trinity would have been an easier thing than moving forward. I remember sitting alone some nights thinking how in the hell can I help my boy move forward when everything in his life was turned upside down and nothing seems to be going right for us. I had to remind myself many times that time marches on.
He entered into middle school a few months after Theresa died and that was one of the hardest times in our life. Middle school is hard enough without dealing with all the life events that had taken place. It was a common occurrence for me to get phone calls from the school because things were not going well. My co-workers in Tucson could tell you stories of my cell phone flying across the room a few times because of these calls. Academically he was failing just about every subject he was taking. Despite all of that, he called me one day and told me that he was going to run for an elected office on the student council. He crafted a speech and gave it the next day. Nothing came of that event other than frustration and sadness at the treatment he received by some of the 6th grade kids.
Half way through 6th grade, we moved to Phoenix and found a private school for him to attend. The rest of 6th grade was still hard. 7th grade got a little easier and 8th grade a lot easier. As he settled into his school, he started to realize his potential and ended the 8th grade on a high. Despite the lunacy of the Covid-19 lockdown, he was maintaining a 4.0 GPA and becoming more engaged with his fellow students.
In the days and weeks after Theresa died, Ryan did not want anything to do with the present or future. He did not want to ride in her car since it reminded him of her. He did not want to stay in our house in Sahuarita since it reminded him of her. He did not want to attend church since it reminded him of her. He did not want to think about the future because it was a painful thought of walking forward with his Mom. I remember telling him many times that as humans we can not go backwards and we can not stay in the present. Time marches on and the only way for humans is to move forward. I've had to tell myself that too.
Last night Ryan told me that he was running for the class representative spot on the student council. He told me that the elections were held earlier that day and that he would know the results of them in the village meeting his school holds every morning. He told me he would email me once he knew the outcome of the election. I texted him before school started "Good luck this morning. Regardless of the outcome I'm proud that you ran". This morning at 9:15 I received the following email: "I'm student rep for 9th grade". Despite all the issues, setbacks, bullying and general garbage of life happening to him, Ryan was determined to move forward and to do it well.
You look back on the lives of some of the Saints of the Church and you see all the hardships, struggles and sadness that they had to deal with. Pope John Paul II lost his mother when he was 8 years old. 4 years later at the age of 12 he lost his brother to scarlet fever. At the age of 21, his father died leaving him alone in the world at 21. Despite all this sadness in his life, Karol Wojtyla found his way in the world, rising through the clerical ranks to assume the Chair of St. Peter in 1978 and remaining there until 2005, the second longest Papacy in church history. I'm happy to see my boy finding his way in the world despite all the potholes in the road. I wrote some time ago that life ain't always beautiful, but it's a beautiful ride.
Saint John Paul II, pray for us.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.