Pat Lynch sits on the other side of the hospice bed, adoration in his face as he looks at his wife.
To the right of him, along the windowsill, is a series of photographs. Two summers ago at the Statue of Liberty, on their wedding day, her parents at a night club, their sons as little boys.
And a card in a frame, hand lettering, and two tiny inked footprints.
“God bless Matthew Thomas,” the nurse at Genesee had written. “Born March 27th, 2000. 8:34 p.m.
“Gone to God.”
She had given it to the newlyweds that heartbreaking night and they had asked her how much he weighed.
“Weight ½ pound,” she added, and, “Bless Pat and Bernadette.”
They met at Thursday night mass, at Corpus Christi. Father Jim invited all the singles and after services they would go to Jines for food and fellowship and, ultimately, love. He proposed to her from the Corpus Christi altar, where they would marry, and where they would baptize their sons.
Both of the boys are in the picture on the wall to the right of where Bernadette lays. It’s mom and dad and Michael and Brendan and the family dog. They took it in the back yard a year ago this week. They wanted a family portrait before the chemo took her hair.
“After the second diagnosis, we made it a point of saying, ‘I love you,’ every day,” Bernadette says.
This past March, as Michael was leaving for school one morning, he stopped at the top of the stairs of the family’s Irondequoit home and said to his mother, still resting in bed, “I love you,” and she answered with the same phrase.
Pat was downstairs, working at his desk, and as the boy passed, he said, “I love you, buddy.”
“I love you, Dad,” the 14-year-old said.
Those were his last words. At least his last words to his family.
Later, when Bernadette was leaving for chemo – the first day of her second round – she saw a commotion down the street, and called Pat to see if he had heard anything from Michael. He said he hadn’t and she mentioned the flashing lights and the crowd of people and he drove over to see what was happening.
“I saw his sneaker and backpack in the road,” Pat says. “I started yelling to the police officer, ‘Where did you take him?’”
Then he called Bernadette and told her to meet him at Strong. They spent two weeks at the Ronald McDonald House, coming to grips with the fact that there would be no miracle.
They had his services at Corpus Christi.
As this story is told, Brendan, a middle-schooler with braces, sits at the foot of his mother’s bed.
“No matter what,” she says to him, “we’ll have each other. We’ll always have each other.”
“When we lost baby Matthew,” Pat says, “I thought that was going to be the biggest loss of my life.”
He doesn’t cry, but his eyes get red and tears gather in them. Sometimes he looks across the bed at you, or at a picture or at Brendan, but mostly he looks at Bernadette, with an almost worshipful love.
“It’s easy to go to church when you’re giving praise,” Pat says. “After Michael was hit, it was harder for me. I got mad.”
He got mad that God hadn’t protected his son. There was a responsive reading at church about the “good deeds of the Lord” and Pat wondered where those good deeds were when his family needed them. He wondered where God was when his family needed him.
It was a natural doubt, but a brief and fleeting one. Pat and Bernadette are people of faith.
“I know,” Pat says, “that Bernadette is soon going to get the chance to embrace Michael with the grace of God shining on him. I’m convinced that is going to happen.”
Soon, they will have Bernadette’s services at Corpus Christi.
Friends and family sit with her around the clock, and she says the nurses are angels.
“If I didn’t have faith, I don’t know how I would be able to manage this,” she says. “There is only one way I can, and that is by walking hand in hand with God.”
“The promise of seeing one another again,” Pat says, looking at Bernadette and elaborating, “of seeing you again – that is what carries you through this garbage.”
That, and small glimpses and hellos, small bits of tender mercy that the Lynches see as connections to Michael. Like on his birthday, when friends gathered to release balloons. A whole bundle of green ones, and a single blue one, let go at the same time, the blue one – his favorite color, representing him – tore away from the others and flew higher and faster, as if on its way to heaven. Or the time in the backyard, this summer, underneath a cluster of lilac bushes, near a stone memorial to their miscarried Matthew, a trapped blue balloon, out of nowhere.
Small signs of a son grasped at by desperate parental hearts.
You ask Bernadette what advice she would give to others.
“However in your life you need to make peace – with yourself, with others – do it sooner rather than later,” she says. “Don’t have that regret.”
That’s what she says, lying in the bed where she will probably pass from this life, propped up by pillows with a green scarf around her neck, pictures of her family everywhere she looks.
“In every thing, give thanks,” it says in the Bible, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
In every thing, give thanks. Even in the hard things. Even in the very hardest of things.
Because one day we may look back from the perspective of the eternities and shed tears of gratitude for those days in mortality when we shed tears of sorrow. It is sometimes the trials and tribulations of life that refine and purify us, and prepare us for the journey ahead.
A year ago they stood in the backyard for a family portrait. Soon, it will be mother and two sons on one side of the veil, and father and one son on the other. One family, in two places for a time, headed toward the same forever.
“The promise of seeing one another again,” Pat says. “that is what carries you through.”
Michael, Bernadette, Pat and Brendan Lynch.