My son is stoic. He keeps his feelings in a tightly lidded canopic jar adorned with shaggy hair, skinny jeans, and headphones. At age 12, he is dealing with a pretty serious problem that is almost beyond his control. I have been sworn to secrecy regarding its nature and it has nothing to do with his family, friends, or school. He is fighting a battle that tears at my heartstrings, plucking a mournful cat-gut sound day in and day out.
This Sunday past, he had an outing to our local hospice with his confirmation class from church. He and his mentor walked the labyrinth on the grounds. He came home with silent tears welling in his big brown eyes. He wouldn’t talk to me.
He was grouchy all day; out of sorts, cranky, and full of backtalk. So unlike him as he usually self-corrects pretty quickly these days. We were becoming angry parents—full of righteous indignation over his “go-straight-to-hell” death stare. Still, he wouldn’t talk to me.
Yesterday afternoon we started to do his homework and he was sullen and unfocused. I laid down my papers and turned to him. He began to sob. I gently, ever-so-gently, coaxed it out of him: the hurt, the fear, the anguish. Feelings that no child should have to deal with. Not about this. I couldn’t take his pain away. I could only sit with him in mute understanding and compassion. Infinite compassion.
I grabbed the car keys and we went back to the labyrinth. I indicated a bench and let him know I’d be waiting. When he pulled out his iPhone and his earplugs, I gently suggested that he might want to be quiet to let his inner voice be heard. He said music helped him think and settled on a haunting violin piece by Lindsey Stirling. I nodded and sat down, watching him trudge heavily out of sight. I sat in the warm early spring breeze, taking in the beautiful grounds, well aware of what transpires behind the lovely architecture of the hospice buildings. Caretaking. Support. Grief. Hope and hopelessness. I wrapped my arms tightly around my waist and waited.
Eventually he came out and sat down next to me. His eyes were full of pain. We talked of making pacts and better choices, of being healthy for each other and for our family members, of how to feel safe in an unsafe world. He took my hand, my tender boy, and led me back into the labyrinth. We walked silently together and I marveled at how incredibly sensitive he is. My son has come through a world of hurt in his short life and yet he lives happy and loving and open and honest. He has a wisdom so far beyond his age and I was cut to the quick with the rawness of each footfall as we wound our way inward and inward, moving ever forward.
At the center of the labyrinth is a fountain, the water bubbling up and over a garden of loose stones. I started to walk around it, intent on heading back out. But he stopped, my boy, and appeared to be meditating or praying. I followed his cue and begged God to lighten his burden, shift it to my own shoulders, let me carry it for him. Eventually he reached down and chose one small stone that he clutched in his hand. I followed suit and he nodded that it was time to head back out. He talked of the weather, the warmth, the sunshine of the day before. He was done processing and he was ready to be stoic again. I ruffled his hair and he smiled at me. My only child, my little man, my warrior prince ready to fight his demons on his own terms.