Sunday, June 24, 2012

Invisible Children

The Dads, and the view from which Karen writes.

Karen Gerstenberger and I did not fall into one another's arms in tears. We spent a couple of hours together wandering her hometown and the beautiful beach on which she lives, chatting as any two women and their husbands might.  Well, almost any two women and their husbands. I suppose that we were on such easy terms because we both know intimately the deep sorrow that forms the backdrop of our lives, and have no need to explain ourselves to one another.

At one point, we talked about how grateful we are to have been able to give our children wonderful lives for the very short time that they were with us. I mentioned that a friend once criticized me for the time and money we invested in family travel when the kids were small.  "They won't remember it," she said.  My criteria had more to do with the joy of exploration and family cohesion in the then-present than with memory.  It would be beyond my capacity for words to express my gratitude for those trip and times together, now that I am left with some memories that are mine alone.  

Karen nodded and spoke fiercely when she said that she has told her husband, "She had the BEST childhood!  No regrets on that count."

A few minutes later, she noted how alike our families had been in our closeness.  "It's difficult to keep that alive when one of the members has become invisible," she added.

"I hadn't thought of them that way," I responded.  "But I suppose that that's what they are. Invisible."

A couple of years ago, while I was on retreat at Wernersville, I told BSSJ, my spiritual director, about a dream I had had in which the rest of us encountered Josh at a construction site on a Cleveland street corner.  He pushed back his hardhat, which revealed how very sunburned his fair skin was, jangled the work belt of tools that hung on his hips, and said he needed to get going.  Josh was always fascinated by architecture and building construction; the dream was so real that I spent several minutes after I woke up trying to get back to sleep, and to him.

B smiled and said, "Perhaps he's at work on some of those many mansions."

And I have to admit that, in that gentle response, he offered me the smallest sliver of hope concerning the continued life and activities of my invisible child.

Go back another year.  I was over at the Jesuit residence in Cleveland, talking to HGSG, spiritual director emeritus, and as I was leaving I asked if he would pray with me.  Among his words in response was a prayer for Josh, and a prayer that "Josh pray for his mother."  Now that would be a Catholic prayer.  Protestants tend to be leery of intercessory prayer by or for The Invisible Ones. Perhaps to a Catholic such words would be unremarkable, but  I thought, and still think, that it was one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard.  A quiet expression of confident hope that my invisible child lives to pray for and with me.

I suppose that many of my conversations have, in fact, veered out of the realm of ordinary. On the beach, at a retreat house, in a Jesuit sunroom: the Invisible Children are almost tangible.

Intrepid Gerstenberger Beach Kitty


  1. A Sunday morning gift...thank you.

  2. Love the view...I can't get over the need for jackets as we brace ourselves for our first 100* degree day just around the corner. Love that you two got to meet and spend some time together. : )

  3. I had a college roomate, a friend, who died at a young age from metastatic breast cancer. For several days after her death, whenever I would find myself in tears, I would simultaneously experience something - it's hard to say what - something that felt like her, present with me.

    Years ago a parishioner had a massive heart attack and was on life support. That I night I had a dream about her - the phone rang and she was calling me from "heaven" - and her words to me were distinct - "Pastor Terri, it's Jody. I just wanted you to know that I am okay."

    When my mother died I had not such experience. I don't know why.

    I don't know why sometimes I have had these experiences and other times I have not. Did my mother choose to not communicate with me? Or was I unable to hear her communication? Were these other two experiences just my psyche responding to grief? Or experiences of the one I loved?

    I have no idea. All I know is that they have been enough to convince that there is something after this life....I love that your son came to you in a dream, in a hard hat with a sun burn, and a tool belt!

  4. I like that photo of our husbands, deep in conversation. It was a pleasure to have you and David visit us here, to walk & talk & get a bit better acquainted IRL. I am also glad that Latte gave you a chance to catch a photo of his glorious, "doggish," intrepid self.

    Invisible loved ones are still present, I believe very strongly. Your dream, and my own experiences of Katie's presence after her passing, help to sustain that belief...and of course, our Lord's resurrection helps, too!

  5. Truly happy this visit happened. And at 48 family vacations rank high of my memory list

  6. I totally agree with the value of family vacations. Seems we spent most of our money on events and places, rather than things. Still do. They really are the stuff of memories. Thanks for sharing about your time with Karen. I almost feel that I was there. I like the image of your Josh building mansions. I find that entirely plausible and even likely.