Posted by: riverchilde | January 20, 2013

Sanctuary, not shrine

I found Alex’s faith project video on a flash drive in his room today. I’ve been so longing to hear his voice again, so I listened to just the audio clip of him singing. It was so good to hear his voice again. Yesterday I opened his deodorant and smelled it.

All these things make me cry, but I need so much to come out of the fog and begin remembering something other than memories associated with his death. I am so very tired of living those events and thoughts and questions over and over again in my mind. I want to remember the love, the silliness, even the anger and frustration, of our life together.


Alex and I have been repurposing his room together. I hadn’t anticipated having his input, but I’d forgotten the strength of his convictions. I discovered this when I attempted to hang purses on the back of his bedroom door. As soon as the first strap slipped over a hook, I clearly heard his voice, with all the wounded pride, chagrin, pained outrage and masculine agony that only an adolescent male can adequately convey: “No, Mom! No purses!” I even heard that pleading little tone of “I know you’re my mom, but no. Just no. Please.”

There are not now, nor will there ever be, any purses hanging on the back of his bedroom door. (“Or scarves!” Alex adds.)

In the process of trying to bring some new items into the room, we worked out a few ground rules. Well, they’re more like guidelines anyway. No ribbon (courtesy of a board with lavender sheer ribbon that I attempted to hang on the wall). Nothing girly. Everything new that is brought in must resonate with things that we shared in our relationship or that Alex would have liked.

This last rule proved to create a tremor of sorrow in me. How would I know what commonalities we would have shared or what Alex would have liked as he grew past age 14? The repurposing stopped for a few days as I dealt with the pain of that question.

So far, I had sorted his belongings, donated some, given some away, and packed some for the children Tori might have some day. This was a layered, progressive work, staged and executed over the last seven months. I had hurried the process early, wanting to give mementos to all who wanted them, but not sure which of the items really bore the sentimental value I thought they did. Eventually their value revealed itself, and I was properly able to dispense them. The dresser drawers remain full of his t-shirts, waiting to become a quilt some day, and his shorts, which await summer donation opportunities.

I’d already nabbed all his sweatshirts for myself (as well as all the closet-rod space in his room). I’d finally found boxes for the Nerf guns, and taken down the peg board upon which they had hung. The beautiful rainbow canvasses (upon which so many who knew him had written messages of farewell, sorrow, grief, confusion, and regret) took its place. The desk drawers had been sorted, but are still packed full. (I had no idea how much money we had invested in Pokemon cards!)

IMG_0527The slight rearrangement of the shelves displaying Lego Star Wars creations a few weeks ago engendered some heated debate. “They are exactly where I want them!” Alex declared, as I went to move an Imperial stormtrooper transport ship to a lower shelf. “It won’t fit on a lower shelf!” he huffed. “Yes, it will,” I said, and proved it. The grumbling subsided a bit.

In its place on top of the bookcase, I placed the Dead Mau5 headpiece that Alex and his dad and I had labored over for his Halloween costume last year, all soft fuzzy black fabric, big ears, big eyes and big mouth. It was truly a work of art. When you walk in or look through the bedroom door, your eyes are drawn right to it. “Now, doesn’t that look fantastic there?” I got a reluctant grunt of agreement. Good enough.

Tori had asked that we not take Alex’s lofted bed down, or change the room so dramatically that it no longer looked like his room as you walk by the door. (She has yet to set foot inside the door, and Eric can’t spend more than a few minutes in there.) My mother had insisted that I not turn it into a “shrine.” I felt a longing to turn it into a sanctuary.

It’s the best room in the house, I think. The orientation of the house makes it the sunniest room, and one wall is painted orange (imagine that!). When I walk in on a sunny day, I am immediately transported to Alex’s babyhood, when we would play on the floor of that room all day in the winter, bathed in warmth and light. It’s a peaceful room, but very much a part of the world. You’re much more aware of what’s going on outside when you’re in that room than when you are in the rest of the house. And, of course, Alex’s spirit pervades it.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, his scent no longer remains, but so much of him does. I’ve left his posters on the wall, because they are mostly of dragons, a passion that we shared. I’ve left up posters that represent a shared passion with his dad, and a shared experience with his Nana. We took down the 55-gallon fish tank that he refused to stock after traumatically losing a beloved fish, but wanted for the feeling and sound of water in the room. I brought in the computer table from the hallway, and set up a long table under the loft for working. I’d attempted to take down his books from the shelf above that table, and ended up putting half of them back–the ones that we had both loved and read and discussed. In the gaps between the books I placed his dragons and griffins and other items we had bought together.

_MG_0524That’s when I began to think of it as a shared space. Here we could be together with the things we both loved, in a space that brought tranquility and harmony and peace to our lives. I brought in a fountain for the sight and sound of water. Engraved on it are the words “Let Love Flow.” Appropriate, given that “Let the River Flow” was Alex’s favorite church song and sung at his funeral. (As someone who was in his natural element in water, the video version I linked here would resonate with his feelings very much, I think.)

IMG_8093I placed the small fountain among his beloved plants. Arranging and pruning them had been another adventure in compromise. Despite much grumbling from him about how he LIKED the philodendron all long and ropy, I trimmed it back anyway, explaining that Nana had said it would be healthier that way. It wasn’t until I had actually snipped through the stem that he told me he liked how they looked like jungle vines when they were all ropy. Now he tells me that!  But now that I know they are jungle vines, I’ll let them grow all long and lanky again. (They will remind me of the rain forest Alex and I created in the church basement for VBS one year.)
I realized that the table was also just the right height for kneeling in prayer, and added 0678761-R1-021-9_1Alex’s baptismal cross to the wall above it, and a rocking-wave paperweight as a meditation focus. I had found a large throw rug in the shape of a yellow star at a garage sale and had thought of how our performer deserved a star on his floor, if not on his door. It would now provide perfect cushioning for my knees.

Now I needed a miniature Zen sand garden. I remembered the shared joy we had going to the Como Conservatory and first encountering a Zen sand garden. Alex could have stayed there ALL day. We came home and immediately created an indoor miniature sandbox for him. Suddenly things began to click into place.

I KNOW Alex. I know what intrigued him, what drew him, what engaged his senses, what irritated him, what brought him joy and happiness. His adolescent gloom (and, perhaps, depression) might have dimmed his visible enthusiasm, but I know what caught his attention. What would catch his attention as he grew older. What, if I added it to our room, he would say “Yeah, that’s cool.”

IMG_0512Like the owl wall art I found at the thrift store for $1.41, created of silver-sprayed washers and flat nails (that I can’t help comparing to both railroad spikes and the nails of the cross). Alex and I knew we had to have it as soon as I saw it. It’s now hanging above the computer, and I know he loves it as much as I do.


I thought the IKEA wall light in the shape of a blue star appeared childish at the thrift store, but it doesn’t seem that way hung above his pillow and softly shining the light of heaven where his head used to rest. Alex seems okay with it. Maybe because it gives me comfort. Alex prefers the string of miniature Chinese paper globe lanterns with images of bamboo on them that hang above the desk under the loft.

Thanks to the sun and the extraordinary system of extension cords,  lamps and dimmer switches inspired by Alex’s previous set-up, this room glows all the time. I like to think of the light as being powered by everlasting love.


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