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When the Sun and the Clouds Illuminated My Loss

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I cried on a plane the other day, fat tears rolling down my cheeks. Thankfully the plane wasn’t very full and I was alone in my row, so I was able to hide the evidence of my distress.

When flying, I manage to breathe through my anxiety during takeoff and landing, and I white-knuckle it through the turbulence. Still, I sort of enjoy flying. So it wasn’t being in a plane that made the tears leak out of my eyes. It was a culmination of a lot of little things, and nothing, at the same time.

Since my son died, I’m always close to tears — I have to acknowledge that as a reality in my life and simply deal with it. Mostly I do that by compartmentalizing: allowing myself to be work-Maria, or teacher-Maria or mama-Maria, when I need to be, and allowing safe zones for heartbroken-Maria to release any pent-up tears (like in the car on the way home from work, or pulling out the laptop to write when the pain inside needs to be vented). The lurking tears do not often ambush me in public anymore; I can usually contain them.

So that was me on a plane heading home after spending a few days in Auckland for work. I was looking forward to going out to dinner when I get home (Thursday night is date night), and relishing the fact that I have a window seat.

I pulled out my iPhone and took endless pictures of fluffy clouds. As I sat there contemplating all of the different guises the clouds presented, I stumbled back to a childhood memory of a picture of God, depicted in his flowing gown with arms wide, atop a big, puffy cloud, beaming love on the world below. That was where heaven existed for me when I was a child, atop the fluffy clouds. As I contemplated the simplicity of the outlook of a child, I thought about my son, living atop the fluffy clouds I was flying through. As one cloud drifted slowly by, the sun burst through like a star. The sun, illuminating the loss of my son.

I didn’t cry, even though I felt that heaven was within arm’s reach if only I’d been able to open the window and stretch my fingers out towards that cloud. If only. I didn’t cry, even though the pang of loss felt so astoundingly sharp as I thought about my sunshine boy, illuminated in his cloud. I didn’t cry.

And while I was sitting there, congratulating myself for holding it all together in the somewhat stressful environment that is called flight, over the speakers in the cabin the inimitable Roberta Flack began to sing:

“The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes…”

There was an inevitability in that moment, my sunshine boy. You were so present with me on your cloud, just arm’s reach away. And the first time ever I saw your face, I fully believed that the sun rose in your beautiful eyes. And the last time… the last time… the sun went dark, and my life lost some of its magic

And so tears leaked out of my eyes as I sat in that plane, cloud-watching. Because sometimes, the little things all march together and remind me that my life is no longer illuminated by the son, and I miss you every day.

Originally published: February 7, 2017
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