The backseat of my car is strangely quiet – the ride curiously devoid of its usual symphony of animal imitations, tired cries, and gleeful toddler babbling. I turn the radio down to listen for sounds of rhythmic breathing or the gentle pop of a soother falling from my son’s sleepy lips.
It is completely quiet.
It is then, with my car enveloped in relative silence, that the panic decides to strike. The feeling is not unfamiliar; my chest tightens and I am slapped with an inexplicable feeling of alarm.
“Someone is missing.”
The thought springs unbidden to the forefront of my mind, anxiety overruling logic. I have forgotten someone, I have left them behind.
My eyes scan the rearview mirror for a little blond head bobbing in the seat behind me. The process takes a mere second but it feels like forever before I spot the top of his curly locks snuggled up against his carseat. The worry ebbs away as quickly as it appeared and I give a small sigh of relief.
He’s still here.
This isn’t the first time that this has happened. It seems that this momentary surge of panic hits me at least once a week. With my hands firmly planted on the steering wheel and my son quietly out of sight, a sudden wave of worry floods over me – the worry that he has disappeared.
I know how absurd this sounds.
The logical side of my brain scoffs at this irrational need for reassurance. Of course he’s still there. Where else would he be? Only moments earlier, I’d been fastening buckles, tickling toes, and handing him a toy for the ride. We’d been in the car for a whole three minutes. And yet, I still feel the need to double check.
I know how quickly something can disappear. One day you’re imagining someone’s life: the things they’ll do, the person they’ll be – and the next, you’re crying over what could have been.
My eyes scan the rearview mirror, searching for two babies, and only finding one.
I know that this is simply another symptom of grief – the newest way that it has decided to express itself. It’s been a year and a half since I lost my son, and my mind still fights to tell me that all is not as it should be.
Grief is a constantly changing enigma: it evolves over time, manifesting itself in new and unexpected ways. Lately, it has revealed itself to me in the form of these three seconds of panic – a tiny reminder of the traumatic experience my body underwent. Even though my heart feels content with the place that we find ourselves, there are still small slivers of pain that dig unexpectedly against my skin. Today, this pain whispers that “someone is missing.”
People are irreplaceable. My son was here, and now he’s not. No matter how many kids we have, no matter how big our family grows, there will always be a missing one. Family photos will always be one short; there will always be one less chair around the dining room table.
And yet, the word missing doesn’t quite fit the situation. While my son is absent in body, he is not lost. I know exactly where he is. I do not doubt the loving God who in His infinite wisdom, purposefully decided to carry my son Home. There is no fear in the knowledge that my son is with Him.
There is, in fact, tremendous comfort in knowing that this separation was part of the plan. These tears, this pain, and these moments of panic are not some random happenstance or an act designed by a cruel, unloving god. This family has been knit together in a divinely orchestrated gift of love. This family has been intentionally built to look the way it does.
My son is not lost, he is not missing, he is just not here. We are apart for a while but we have been given a great hope: Christ Jesus, the risen King, has conquered death that we might live to glorify Him eternally.
So for now, I take these brief flashes of anxiety for what they are: bits of grief making their way to the surface. Like the rest of my grief, I’ll deal with them one stress-filled second at a time. Because although I may always faintly recognize that feeling of loss, I know that this is part of a bigger plan.
Our family was designed to look like this.