The last time Mother’s Day fell on May 10th, I was in the hospital.
Not because I was sick, far from it. Our second son, Vincent Wing Seun Stringer had just been born.
I don’t remember much about that day, except feeling surprisingly relaxed. It was a peaceful Sunday morning without any traffic on the pre-delivery drive. We even had time to stop at a gas station to install Vincent’s new car seat.
Unlike our first child’s birth, when every possible preparation had been choreographed weeks in advance—car seat included, Vincent’s arrival was an uncomplicated and panic-free Mother’s Day gift.
Plus he was adorable. It was 2009.
As we welcomed him into our world, who would have dared predict that Vincent would spend just one more birthday with us, or that cancer would enter his body shortly thereafter? What proud parent doesn’t expect their healthy newborn to someday reach adulthood?
What parent envisions the kind of emptiness that only follows a child’s death and burial? Who could have foreseen the flood of unanswerable questions about how this happened, why it did, and what might have been?
A number of my seminary courses have explored the implications of bodily resurrection, body-soul dualism, and the “intermediate state,” important subjects for clergy to grapple with. For example, when Vincent’s body is resurrected in the eschaton, what will he look like? How “old” will his appearance be? In what sense is Vincent turning 6 years old today?
Furthermore, can Vincent be “presently” with Jesus somewhere (inside time/space? outside time/space?) but without his body? Can Vincent truly be Vincent without his resurrected body? Is Vincent’s earthly family “missing out” on his heavenly upbringing? How do we navigate tensions between theologies that comfort us and those that can withstand critical scrutiny?
Daily life is complicated enough, even without layering seminary-infused questions on top of my grief experience. When people ask how many kids I have, I usually leave Vinny out because I understand what is actually being asked: How many living kids do I have?
Tax forms, rental agreements and health insurance policies only count the living. Including the dead complicates life.
When people ask how old my (two) kids are, they often note the “interesting” age difference of 5 and a half years between our oldest and youngest. It’s as if they can sense there might be a middle child missing.
But even without knowing what happened, they are right to notice this unusual gap size, which makes for a variety of parenting challenges when it comes to finding age-appropriate activities for both children. Not that I’m looking for additional reasons to wish Vincent was still alive.
As I wrote last year, grief and celebration are not incompatible. For the last 5 Mother’s Days, our family has found ways to do both. It’s actually quite simple. You cry, then eat cake.