The Last Things

Why This Frozen Juice Haunted Me for Nearly 2 Years

My 22-year-old son died suddenly, and a few weeks after the initial wave of terror-grief subsided, I had to start dealing with the“last things.”

The weekend after he died in the hospital, our family drove home. The next day, I was cleaning out the refrigerator (trying to distract from sobbing and the gut-punches of he’s gone!) and found his remaining white grape juice. I’d bought that frequently because he loved it. I took the last amount, a cup or so, and froze it in a container.

I was going to thaw it someday and have a memorial drink of juice for him. I was going to bake it into muffins and share them as a memorial. But it all seemed too cannibalistic and weird.

Almost two years have passed. His shaving cream, which I used, soon ran out. The shampoo he was using, still in the bathroom, also ran out.

He is fading with time. As the months drift on, his name does not come up as often. There is nothing new to say. He is just gone. Sure, we can talk memories. But much of life is “what have you been doing?” and there is no more activity from Max.

A parent is never ready to let go. To let these little pieces and reminders go is hard, even if they are frozen juice.

Occasionally I’ll receive a photo of Max I’ve never seen. It is like being handed a gold nugget. But he is no longer here, so those will trickle to nothing in time. There are no more photos to take.

For most people, with time comes wisdom and experience. With grief, time can only bring a softening. But never a conclusion. There aren’t five stages of grief; instead, there are 500 variations and ebb and flow.

This is where time hurts, though. Because he is fading from tangible earth.

They say there are three deaths:

  1. When the person dies.
  2. When the last person who knew that person dies.
  3. The last time the person’s name is spoken aloud.

A few years ago, my great-aunt Georgia Ruth died and I got several of her personal things. Among them were locks of hair from her brother, who died at age five, and sister, who died at age 22. Back in the ‘80s I didn’t talk with her about being the only sibling left in a family; they had gone so long ago, and I’d never known them, so I didn’t understand her sadness. Even though when she mentioned “Henry” or “Nadine,” there was the occasional break in her voice.

No one alive now remembers her brother and sister.

I wish I had asked her more about them, and had let her talk and cry. But I was young, and didn’t know this type of loss. Like most people, I wouldn’t let myself think of it.

While I believe there is a spiritual side to life, I don’t know. None of us really do. And earthly life grows fainter and fainter with time until no one is left here who remembers an everyday, non-famous person, nor anything about him. That’s what is hardest. Max was such a good soul.

Some people sink into sadness. I refuse. I will keep writing about Max, and talking about him. I am creating scrapbooks and photo albums. I have every piece of his writing I can find. His t-shirts will be made into a quilt. All of my old VHS home movies are being converted to DVD — and someday I’ll have the courage to watch them. Many of his old things will be repurposed in meaningful ways, especially now that I discovered Allison Gilbert’s treasure trove of novel ideas for memorializing.

For some time, I could not watch Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy on TV because we’d watched it so much in the hospital. When I heard the intro music, I’d snap off the TV. Eventually I was able to watch, and sometimes say, “Max, let’s watch our game shows,” when they begin.

I still wear his crazy socks on special occasions.

I have a few boxes of his clothes, things that won’t fit anyone, for my church’s rummage sale. Some of his friends have received mementos.

This week, I removed the frozen juice container from the freezer, let it thaw, and asked forgiveness from Max in letting it go. When it thawed, I poured it out and said a prayer, asking God to keep me strong. I took a deep breath. I had made a major step — though it bruised my heart.

It is hard to let go. Time will eventually wrench the last things from my fingers. But the one thing that is lasting is this, Max: you were here. You loved, achieved and dreamed. We walked this earth together.