Volleyball Senior Night, 2013. A time of joy and celebration for our family. A time to celebrate our accomplishments together. Christiano, our first born was almost at the end of his high school run. Such a bright future ahead. Full of hope; full of promise. And, he honored me. He presented me with a beautiful rose and gave me the most heartfelt hug that said everything without speaking anything. My boy was thankful. He was aware that we were part of his success; that we’d given everything we had for him to make it here. Volleyball Senior Night, 2014. So traditional, yet so different. So real, but so unbelievable. So full, but so empty. Celebrating new endeavors, and mourning the latter of one so loved. Remembering his life, but grieving his future. But, we do not grieve without hope. And last night, hope was revealed and love was displayed.
The boys from the Volleyball team invited our family to attend their last game against LaSalle, and we were more than honored to be a part of their special night. Walking into the high school gym for the first time since was harder than I anticipated. I couldn’t believe how much had changed in one year. After all, nothing is the same, and it never will be. Looking around the gymnasium, I calmed a bit when I saw the familiar faces of Christiano’s friends on the court. Their smiles were welcoming, and I knew we were right where we needed to be. We made our way to the bleachers, and within a few minutes I began taking it all in. The first thing I noticed was the blue socks that every player had on – blue for Christiano. Then, I noticed our son’s jersey displayed on a seat, and tied to it was the only blue balloon among the red and white townie colored balloons. Again, blue for Christiano. And, even though I knew about the warmup jerseys that had been designed with Christiano’s initials, seeing them up close and personal was beyond beautiful. I thought, ‘Christiano, do you see this? Do you see that young men you’ve never even met are wearing your name like a badge of honor on their chest? Do you see how loved you are?’
And, maybe he does see it. But, how I wish I could SEE him SEE. I want to feel him feel. I want to wrap my arms around him and say, ‘Do you see, my son? Look what you’ve done. You’ve shown God’s love to all these people!’ I want to tell him I’m proud. I want to tell him how awesome I think he is. Will I ever get that chance? I wonder this all the time.
It was all so much to take in at once; how loved he is, the impact he made, the way the students keep his memory alive, the bond these boys still have with Christiano. Christiano’s love for the game and for these boys is living on in them. I am so overwhelmed with gratitude towards these young men. They don’t have to do what they’re doing. They could forget, they could move on, they could stuff their grief, they could avoid us. But, they don’t; they invite us; they welcome us; they honor us.
To my complete surprise, two of the seniors, Lucas and AJ invited our whole family onto the court and presented me with most beautiful bouquet of roses I’ve ever laid eyes on; blue sparkles and blue baby’s breath – blue for Christiano. Putting into words what my heart felt may not even be possible, but I will do my best.
I felt such a sweet and pure presence in that moment. When Lucas presented me with the flowers and bent his 6’6″ frame down to hug me, I felt, for one tiny second, like Christiano was hugging me. His hug, too, said everything without saying anything. Literally, I felt like Christiano was there – like he wanted this just as much as the team did. Tears continued to stream down my face; my heart so blessed by this act of love. Hugs from most of the boys and the coaches made me feel like Christiano’s Momma again. It’s so hard for me to feel that sometimes. But, I just keep going back to this…
They didn’t have to do this. They don’t have to love us. They don’t have to remember. But, they did and they do. I felt the love of God coming out of those boys, just for me. And, it meant more than they will ever know.
We stayed for the game, and, even though they lost, they played with such heart. They never gave up. Just like they haven’t given up on us. At the end there were more words exchanged and more hugs. I got to talk with some of the boys’ parents. I needed to tell them what amazing young men they’ve raised. But, they couldn’t help but turn it around on us – telling us what an amazing job we’ve done and how Christiano has impacted, inspired and changed their boys forever. And all the boys kept saying is, ‘Thank you so much for coming, thank you so much for coming.’ Or, ‘We’re sorry we didn’t get a win for you guys.’ I couldn’t even believe my ears. These eighteen year old boys who owe us nothing are thanking us for coming. I know how common it is for families to feel that their lost loved one is forgotten , and, at times, I have felt that, too. But, not last night. Last night I was entirely and wholly aware of how blessed we are to have a son that left such an unforgettable impact on the world and that he chose the wonderful friends that he did. And, we are doubly blessed to have them in our lives the way we do. Thank you to all of Christiano’s friends for not being afraid to reach out and for not leaving us. You are all braver than you realize, and I’m in awe of all of you.
Christiano, last season, with the highest fist and the biggest heart. He loved the game.
When asked what his favorite memory at EPHS was, he answered, ‘When Mr. Martinez approached me in the Library and asked me to play for the Volleyball Team.’