The viral photo… You may have seen it.
Three young men leaning out of the drive-thru of Dutch Bros Coffee, their hands joined with the woman inside the car. It was a candid moment, caught by a random iPhone.
The 37-year-old woman was a frequent customer, and typically very friendly. But on this day, something was different. The barista saw her struggle to repeat the order, choking back tears. She apologized and said she’d lost her husband just a few hours before.
In a spontaneous moment, all three baristas reached out through the window, grabbed her hand, and they began to pray.
The person in the car behind took the picture and shared it with the world.
I saw the photo and started to cry; sort of barking really, because today I have no voice. I’m sitting in bed, struggling with the flu and laryngitis. My throat tightened and I convulsed into sobs with no sound.
It triggered a time years ago when I lost my ability to cry out loud.
My son had just died weeks before. The funeral was long over. The flower arrangements were still in the house, but their former beauty brought no comfort at all.
For days I had people surrounding me and my family with food, support, and help. But the flu virus forced me to keep people away.
I could only manage to get out of bed, take care of my one-year-old baby, get my daughter and son to school, and reheat dinners that my circle of friends had stuffed in my freezer.
I refused to go to the doctor, even though I should have.
But it was a doctor who had misdiagnosed my son’s meningitis. It was a doctor who told me to give him Motrin and plenty of fluids for the flu when he should have ordered a spinal tap and antibiotics. It was a doctor who could have possibly saved my son’s life.
When something like this happens, you discover life still goes on, even though you want it to stop.
I pretended to be fine, handling the loss with grace, while dying inside. I rarely let my tears be seen and yet they welled up inside of me, choking me with the pain almost unbearable. I wanted to die, but my intense love for my family kept me alive.
It didn’t make sense that I stubbornly withheld my own medical care. But then nothing made sense. How does a healthy vibrant 16-year old boy go from life to death in 24 hours?
On day 5 of my flu, I struggled to scold my children for not picking up their rooms. Only barking sounds spewed out, and my kids started to giggle.
It made me angry, and I began to cry, the cry with no sound. It upset my children.
I hugged them tightly, and they patted me, apologizing, “Sorry Mommy, we’ll be good. Just don’t cry, Mommy.”
The children ran to their messy rooms and I could hear them cleaning.
My God, of course, they felt it, too. Their brother was gone. We were all struggling with our despair. We were a family buried in sorrow but pretending to move forward with our lives.
The next day, I relented and booked an appointment with a doctor.
It was cold in the medical office, but they still had me undress and get into a paper gown. It seemed like an hour, sitting at the end of the table, dangling my bare feet.
The door flew open; it startled me. It was a natural reflex these days. Everything startled me since my son died. My body had not recovered from the shock of finding him in the morning, lifeless.
The doctor continued in a cheery voice, “Hey there! How are you, today?”
“What’s going on?” he questioned.
I managed to bark, “I have no voice.”
“You’re right; I can hear that,” he replied, somewhat amused.
“How did it start?
“Sore throat,” I said.
“How long has this been going on?” He asked, grabbing a tongue depressor.
I shrugged. It was an effort to answer. I was exhausted. The doctor continued to peer into my throat, feeling my glands, and listening to my breathing.
It was a ritual he’d perfected. I felt nothing from him, and yet I needed so much. He doesn’t know my life was destroyed a few short weeks ago, and I lived only to take care of my three very alive children.
“And how long did you say you’ve had this… no voice?”
I suddenly found power behind my vocal chords, and cried out, “Since my son died!” I started to cry.
I startled the doctor. He took a breath and looked into my eyes with such compassion. I sighed, and it made a sound.
He gently put his hand on my knee and silently let my tears fall freely onto his fingers. He bowed his head, and I could see his mouth moving.
He had no voice, but his eyes were closed, and I felt him reaching beyond medicine.
He was praying.
My guttural, throaty cries pierced the silence, but he continued. My body reacted, letting go of the tears I’d held back for so long. I felt warmth and comfort flooding my body for the first time in weeks of darkness and sorrow.
He then looked up at me and let me find enough voice to share my story.
It took forever to talk, but he wasn’t impatient. At the end, he looked directly into my eyes while holding onto my knee.
“You couldn’t have known…”
“You couldn’t have known, Sandy. You did everything you could with what you knew.”
He went on to gently explain how deadly and aggressive bacterial meningitis is. He shared a story about a colleague who lost his own baby to meningitis and even he missed the symptoms.
I could suddenly breathe.
I had, in fact, done everything I could. Garrett’s doctor misdiagnosed him, and I trusted him. Was there any other choice? I put him to bed that night after feeding him homemade chicken soup. He loved my soup. I gave him a kiss and a promise we would Christmas shop the next day if he felt better.
I went downstairs that morning expecting to see him awake, feeling better, alive. That’s what the doctor said.
But he was gone. Not even a breath left in his beautiful body.
As a mother you always, always question. Always.
My sore throat and laryngitis came at a time when I needed to speak my sorrow, and it sent me to a doctor who could say the words I needed to hear.
Bacterial meningitis is so aggressive that sometimes even the body doesn’t have time to catch up with the symptoms. There was no rash, no stiffness in his neck, just lethargy, a fever, and sore throat. But in eight dark hours of the night, my son’s body was attacked by one of the deadliest bacterial infections there is. And it killed him while he was sleeping.
“I love you, Honey.” Those were the last words I spoke to him. And he said he loved me back.
I did everything I could, and it still happened. My son died and sometimes loving your child more than anything isn’t enough to save them.
He spoke the words I needed to hear.
My own illness brought me to the doctor that day and I’m certain it was that particular doctor I was supposed to see. His silent prayer opened my heart to healing and hearing the words I needed to hear.
I often wonder if he remembers.
I never saw him again, but I know he’s one of the good guys. He took the time to open his heart and his medical practice to the power of prayer. I left his office feeling like I had a voice for the first time since my son died.
I’ve learned how to live again.
And now, it’s been years since Garrett’s death, and I’ve learned how to live again. Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate life, especially my own. I rose up to give everything I could to loving and healing my family. My beautiful son wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Today, I looked again at the Facebook picture of those three boys in the coffee drive-thru, offering comfort to the grieving woman in such deep, deep pain. It was so profoundly moving to see the compassion the young men unflinchingly shared.
And then, how far reaching it was across the Internet universe. It touched many hearts, especially mine.
Sometimes, when we’re mourning, our tears become our voices
Sometimes, when we’re mourning, our tears become our voices. And sometimes deep sorrow is relieved for even a moment by a comforting hand.
That grieving woman got not one, not three, but thousands of hands in prayer through the power of social media… and I’m one of them.
I have no audible voice today, but I could write this blog… I can feel, I can share, and I can pray.
Remember, even when we have no voice, we are never really alone. I think that grieving woman found it to be true the day she decided to drive through that particular coffee shop and discovered helping hands in prayer.
Please share this post if you know someone who needs hope and a helping hand. I typically write stories of creativity and resilience, but today this deeply personal story comes from my heart needing to cry out loud.
**Previously published on Medium.com**
A version of this post was previously published on SandyPeckinPah and is republished here with permission from the author.
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: istockphoto