Next week, nearly two years and three months from the day he drove his car into a tree, I will shut off my son’s phone.
The phone has rested on my bureau, bookshelf, table, or nightstand, in my private home or workplace apartment, all throughout this long season of grief and recovery.
Though lifeless and inanimate, it has helped me come to terms with the man my son was becoming and has allowed me to connect with him despite his conspicuous absence.
Finding the phone itself was not an easy thing, those shortlong years ago.
I wanted to know, we, his family, needed to know – what happened?
Where were you going, my sweet son, and what were you doing? Were you texting or shuffling your music, navigating or calling your friends?
We received neither phone nor answers when his broken body arrived at the funeral home, not even the clothes he was wearing nor the cross from his neck.
A search was mounted: first, to the fateful tree, and next, to the garage where the wreck had been towed.
His father and I clung to each other in the hot sun of the parking lot, weeping, as we beheld the crumpled heap, our own brokenness forgotten for a time in our shared sorrow.
No, it wasn’t easy to dig inside the car’s sad interior, littered with glass and dirt and rain, through the bark and bottles and blood, to find the device dangling under the dash at the end of its charging cord.
Of course, there was a password that had to be cracked. Part of a zip code, our zip code, where we once lived as a family of six.
So. Much. Loss.
We discover that he had not been texting, nor shuffling, nor looking at Waze. A small comfort, I suppose, because it was not the phone that killed him, but ignorance and alcohol and speed and pride.
One of the troopers in charge of my son’s case leads me to the accident report, which to this day I have still not been able to read in full. But there were witnesses who saw: a casual arm out the window, a brush with a traffic cone, a swerving, no seat belt.
Too much to drink the night before, distraction, hurrying – home? We will never know in full.
My last texts to him, a day or two before his accident, are chilling. We talk of retrieving his car, newly repaired and inspected, and his hair, freshly cut. Why did I choose that emoji, a head swathed in cloth, when I would not see his face, too damaged by the crash, ever again?
Why did he choose those words?
I don’t know what to make of this.
What I do know is that God speaks to me through His word, and in the weeks leading up to the crash, everywhere I turned, everywhere, were the promises of Psalm 23.
The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
He was preparing me, I know that now, just as He prepares me now for this next step of letting go.
Another Psalm comforts me today. It speaks of the path before me and the path that was my son’s.
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of the past.
You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book. (Psalm 139: 4-5, 16)
Even as I consider that this fall my son would have launched himself officially into adulthood – his college class having graduated this past May – and perhaps we even might have worked here together, at our beloved shared school, side by side, even as I consider this, I know I must continue to let go.
God knew how long Gordie would live, even before he was born, and He knows the length of my days.
What is your only comfort in life and death? the Heidelberg Catechism asks.
From the heights of heaven comes the response, as well now knows my boy.
I am not my own, but belong, with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
So I will scroll and listen for the last time, text myself from his device to hear his unique tone on mine one last time, and turn the corner, and wait, and watch: try to fit a life’s worth into the days left on the path ahead.
Until, of course, we meet again.