by Michael Crenlinsten
The gap between those who have lost children and those who have not is
profoundly difficult to bridge. No one, whose children are well and intact can be expected to understand what parents who have lost children have absorbed and what they bear. Our children come to us through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal. We seek contact with their atoms, their hairbrush, their toothbrush, their clothing. We reach for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded. A black hole has been blown through our souls and, indeed, it often does not allow the light to escape. It is a difficult place. For us to enter there is to be cut deeply, and torn anew, each time we go there, by the jagged edges of our loss. Yet we return, again and again, for that is where our children now reside. This will be so for years to come and it will change us profoundly. At some point in the distant future, the edges of that hole will have tempered and softened but the empty space will remain – a life sentence.
Our friends will change through this. There is no avoiding it. We grieve for our children, in part, through talking about them and our feelings for having lost them. Some go there with us, others cannot and through their denial add a further measure, however unwittingly, to an already heavy burden. Assuming that we may be feeling "better" six months later is simply "to not get it." The excruciating and isolating reality that bereaved parents feel is hermetically sealed from the nature of any other human experience. Thus it is a trap – those whose compassion and insight we most need are those for whom we abhor the experience that would allow them that sensitivity and capacity. And yet, somehow there are those, each in their own fashion, who have found a way to reach us and stay, to our comfort. They have understood, again each in their own way, that our children remain our children through our memory of them. Their memory is sustained through speaking about them and our feelings about their death. Deny this and you deny their life. Deny their life and you no longer have a place in ours.
We recognize that we have moved to an emotional place where it is often very difficult to reach us. Our attempts to be normal are painful and the day to day carries a silent, screaming anguish that accompanies us, sometimes from moment to moment. Were we to give it its own voice we fear we would become truly unreachable, and so we remain "strong" for a host of reasons even as the strength saps our energy and drains our will. Were we to act out our true feelings we would be impossible to be with. We resent having to act normal, yet we dare not do otherwise. People who understand this dynamic are our gold standard. Working our way through this over the years will change us as does every experience – and extreme experience changes one extremely. We know we will have recovered when, as we have read, it is no longer painful to be normal. We do not know who we will be at that point or who will still be with us.
We have read that the gap is so difficult that, often, bereaved parents must attempt to reach out to friends and relatives or risk losing them.
This is our attempt. For those untarnished by such events, who wish to know in some way what they, thankfully, do not know, read this. It may provide a window that is helpful for both sides of the gap.
I both like this essay and fear it. It speaks a lot of truth. Absolutely everything that is said is there. But I am at a place in my own journey where I feel it is important that I focus on and recognize that its not every single minute. Its not every single day. I have good moments. I have good times. I have moments when I think of Joe-Gi and I laugh. Moments when I feel him so close to me. I am learning how to carry him with me. But its been a hard and resentful journey to get here. Everything in my screams to leave me alone and let me have my grief. Let me hold it, pet it, nurture it. Let me resist the world and its callous insistence that it continue to move onward.
I have been full of anger, fury and rage at the idea that I should keep going. But when does it stop? At what point will someone look at me and say "enough" and that being said somehow be okay with me? Never! It would never be okay with me. Yet it does need to be said. Not in the sense of "Enough missing him! Enough sorrow for him!" but more in the sense of "Enough using this loss as an excuse to give up on life! Enough thinking this is a good enough reason to let yourself, your life, your dreams, your other children and other loves go!" I have two other children. I have a mother who loves me, an ex husband who thinks the world of me, a current lover whose life was uprooted in order to build a new one with me. I have dreams and goals and I am going to be here for God knows how many long years still. Even if I myself am willing to live in misery, those around me should not have to live in the misery of watching my sorrow sap me of who I am. I am better than that. And dammit, I am sick of having to be sometimes, but it doesn't change it at all. And if my grief were to rob me of those who love me to the point that they leave me in solitude then I would feel like a fool too late. I cannot get my Joseph back, not in the sense of having him here to live out his life, son to mother. I can trust more the feeling of closeness I have to his spirit and resent less that its not his physical body. I can carry him forward with me rather than sitting here refusing to budge. So the above essay is true. Very true. But what it also does not address is, having suffered such a monumental loss, that we possess within us the strength and tenacity to bear ourselves onward in recognition of the gift that our other friends and family are in our lives. One waste does not need to equate to a lifetime of wastefulness. I can't afford to waste any more time. I have been wallowing a lot. Feeling sorry for myself. Grieving with food and unhealthy habits. And I am tired of myself. This isn't me or what I am worthy of. It isn't what life and God and circumstances have revealed of myself to me. I am better than this. I am ready to take up this fight.
Those who counsel parents on the loss of a child talk a lot about "grief work". The "hard work of grieving" that must be done or one is ever stuck in the same place with no light. I never really knew what that meant. I think I understand now. Because it is work to move forward. No magic wand is going to wave over my head and suddenly make me feel good about or okay with Joseph's death and give me a burst of energy to pursue other thoughts, interests, activities, goals. To pursue joy. I have to choose to do that. And then work through the emotional avalanche that comes with that choice.