Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

A Mock Orange for Jake

in Death & Dying, Family, Spiritual Practice

mock orangeI woke this morning feeling sad, but couldn’t remember why until I wrote the date, 4/8/04, in my journal. Then I remembered. Fourteen years ago today, on a full moon, my first born son Jeremy (nicknamed Jake) died in a hiking accident. He was 15 years old, one month away from turning 16. I didn’t know when it happened, had no presentiments or intuitions. I found out the next morning that he was missing and, after a torturous day, found out he was dead when I saw his body at the bottom of a canyon, the lead story on the 5:00 news.

When I meet new people I’m often asked if I have children. I sometimes say “one,” and sometimes say “I have one living son and one who died,” depending on my mood and how I feel about the person I’m meeting. Invariably people, especially mothers, will respond “that has to be the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, to have a child die.” And I’m not sure that’s true. I’ve never been raped, or molested, or tortured for my beliefs. I’ve never known hunger or drug addiction or war. I think that the “worst that can happen” is different for every person.

“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, “breeding lilacs out of memory and desire.” He was quoting Chaucer if I remember correctly.

Not so cruel though, I think, to contemplate death and endings in the season of rebirth. I do not minimize the pain and shock of fourteen years ago, but I have not stayed there, frozen and stuck. I worked hard at healing for years (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). There are times when I remember with pleasure the joys of his childhood and the difficulties of his adolescence, and other times when the grief is as fresh and potent as the day it happened.

The best part is when I dream that I am a young mother again, and both my blond-haired baby boys are there, sweet and loving and full of hugs and sticky kisses.

I do have a soft spot in my heart for little boys.

Each year on the anniversary of Jake’s death, I have made a ritual of planting a tree or shrub for him. Some are in California, some here in the Northwest, scattered around the various places I was living or visiting at the time. This year I decided to plant a Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii), one of my favorite Northwest native shrubs. My friends at Tree Frog Farm gave me the one that Craig and I will plant a little later today. We will speak to Jake’s spirit and to the spirit of Mock Orange as well, welcoming, inviting, blessing. In June and July, when it blooms, the heady scent of sweet oranges will remind me of my beloved first-born son.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Joanna Thu - Apr 08th 2004 2:21 pm

    I just realized that the Madonna & Child amulet is related to Jake, as today is the anniversary of his death and it’s also the first day I started praying with the rosary. Mmmm.

  • Lunaea Thu - Apr 08th 2004 2:27 pm

    I just read your blog entry about Jeremy, and was much moved by it, of course. The memory of that time is strong in me as well, as I’m sure it is with all those who care about you and who were with you then. I remember that when all your goddess-y girlfriends were saying how you must feel like Demeter or Inanna, you said that actually, you felt like Mary, especially since it was around Easter. Not many of us could understand that yet, as Mary was still working her way into the goddess-community consciousness. But now, as a devotee of the Mother of Sorrows as well as the Mother of Consolation, I understand so much better. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Craig and Steve today, and of course with Jake, wherever he is on his soul’s journey now!

  • melanie Wed - Apr 13th 2005 8:42 pm

    just *hugs*
    from an auntie of a lost neice.

  • Maureen Tue - Apr 18th 2006 11:01 pm

    It’s 2:00am I was just reading about your life in some of your e-mails that I received. I couldn’t sleep, WOW! You are one hell of a woman! You do inspire me, a strong woman, we need so many more like you in this world! Hats off!!! I have your Tarot cards, the Major, I’m waiting for the minor,(no rush)! All my Love! Blessings!!!

  • James Ricklef Fri - Feb 02nd 2007 2:34 pm

    Oh Joanna!
    What a moving, bittersweet post! When I was 16, one of my older brothers was in a fatal traffic accident. It took me a decade to really deal with his death and finally to begin to recover. I still miss him, but the ache has become gentle and tender now instead of raw and painful as it was before, and that’s okay. Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings here.
    Bright Blessings,
    James Ricklef

  • Joanna Wed - Feb 07th 2007 7:49 am

    Thank you James . . . it’s good to hear about other people’s experiences of losing loved ones. I know you still miss your brother and I’m glad the pain has subsided over time. Blessings to you!

  • Jean Sun - Apr 08th 2012 8:48 am

    one of the worst things then

    i hope your tree-planting ritual today is meaningful

    • Joanna Sun - Apr 08th 2012 9:27 am

      Thank you Jean.

  • James Wells Sun - Apr 08th 2012 8:52 am

    May the perfume of mock orange be as sweet as sticky sonkisses for you today and ever, Joanna.

    • Joanna Sun - Apr 08th 2012 9:27 am

      Thanks James. Much love to you.

  • Gwen McClellan Mon - Apr 09th 2012 6:02 am

    Thank you for this wise and poignant writing.

    Sometimes we have such tough experiences. And your clarity, honesty, and love illuminate your wisdom of not struggling with what is, of embracing what we have and what we experience, of having and feeling all of our blessed and often messy emotions, and then honoring the grace of our lives, with all of this combined.

    It is kind to imagine that having one of our children die before us, and young, is the most difficult thing. It certainly is profound. There are so many ways of having profoundly tough experiences, and you are right- I often sit and stand and walk in the experience of mine, better to digest them and enable them to grow and heal, and give thanks because I am not in a refugee camp surrounded by extreme suffering, I am not living in a dangerous place where there are no jobs, little hope, I am caring for my grandchildren and taking a subway hours to work and back at a job that is back breaking.

    Your writing illuminates for us the particular grace with which you walk your days and nights with this knowing of this child of yours, and honoring his life and days with planting more things that grow and live.

    • Joanna Tue - Apr 10th 2012 11:40 am

      I can’t tell you how deeply your response touches me, Gwen. Deep, deep thanks.

  • Arwen Mon - Apr 09th 2012 12:55 pm

    Blessings, Joanna.

    • Joanna Tue - Apr 10th 2012 11:39 am

      Hugs, Arwen.