I was 38 when my son died.
Even now I do not think I can describe the endless night at the hospital, our return home, the hours that passed, the collective silence of relatives as they gathered in our room. I wonder if I could even remember.
Its nearly mid-night as I sit here and type. I laid down, willing myself to sleep… Its been weeks. I just need one good nights sleep, or to just know why I cannot settle. My mind goes back to him every time. My son, 10 years, anguish, silence, sorrow I cannot explain to people; even if you know my pain.
My journey is not unique, but it is mine and I will own every bit of it. After he died every morning I opened the newspaper looking at the obituary page, to examine the only item I was interested in. It wasn’t death, it was life. I would read obituaries, young, old… It didn’t matter. It mattered that each of those names in bold were here, they were loved and in death they would continue to everything. Ghoulishly, I devoured confirmation that I was not alone. I was not the only one grieving.
In the early days, all I could think of was I failed at my most basic duty: I had not been able to protect my son. I could do nothing to stop what happened.
When I returned to work after a few weeks; its not like I had a baby to stay on leave. It was with the slow painful walk of a cripple. My words came with difficulty, presentations and staff meetings presented hurdles I stumbled over.
Among staff I spent my time staring dully out the door of my office, I resented the kindness, peoples determined advance upon my space, anything said to express solidarity, the slightest reference to what had happened. I was thankful for Janell, she sat beside me in those days. She was my bits of normal.
I remember thinking, the day I came home from the funeral, the first time you put food into your mouth, that is the moment you have decided to live.
I sought solace in people like me. We talked about our losses, we talk about marriage break-ups. Couples separate – they cannot take the burden of grief- their own and their partners. They want to get on with life.
I was there… I wanted to get on with life.
The time before, the time after –
There are some things we never do again. I have never since stuck a photo in an album, never put a rosary in my hands. My husband… well he’s not my husband. He quit being happy, forgot what normal was and lived a life filled with anxiety. There were places we didn’t visit because they were associated with him, songs we didn’t listen to, drawers that remain shut. Unbeknownst to anybody, we continued with our pointless statements. Even as we welcomed a new baby into our lives.
The years that followed were muddled in a bitter divorce. Another unexplainable loss. There are parts of us we leave behind though, the things we put into a compartment for later…
I turned on my old computer the other day. Looked at the pictures I took with my camera the day he was born, the day he had died. Remembered the little swirl on his head, his perfect jet black hair. I scrolled through the files, opening each one, page after page. I can barely understand what I had written, let alone relate to it.
I closed the computer.
Writing had once meant a lot to me, and now I wonder whether it too has collapsed along with so much else. My hands move over the keys. Uncertainly, I begin to jot down some of what I have been going through.
Its useless, words cannot do justice to what I feel. So I stare, in the blank screen I see my dim reflection. The reflection of a 38-year-old-woman.
To feel peace…
I still go to church. The one he was in, where our friends, family and strangers gathered over his casket. I look around the people appear happy, content, calm and serene. I have spent days sitting in the pew over the years, looking for something. The answers to my sadness.
Tonight as I laid in bed, I thought its not the place is it? No place can free us from our suffering. Not a single place in the entire world. But I still prayed, it was my crutch.
I gradually stopped feeling like a victim. I stopped asking why me? Why him?
It been nearly ten years now. Ten years- with all my subsequent life.
The way I think now is deeply influenced by what I practice. For years I have tried to change myself into the person I was. I tried to regain my faith in Him. To hand EVERYTHING over like I had… Do I believe? Through everything I still diligently try to be the person who possesses wisdom, courage and compassion. A person who recognizes with the depths of her being that you cannot hold onto anything, not even your children. That if I manage to accept this basic fact I will not feel so violated, so alone in my waves of grief.
A spiritual journey is difficult to explain in words. Words seem tired, old, self-evident, obvious and simple. My faith is intact, its just different. Its not the same as it was when I was 28. Its changed and that’s ok, I have changed.
Miracles – I have said this over and over again…
Whenever I hear of parents whose children have died I think of the long, long road ahead of them. I want to rush out and hold their hands, assure them that their darkness will lift, that though their lives have changed irrevocably, they will be able to experience light again, a different light from the one they thought they would live in earlier, but light nonetheless.
I want to present with a smiling face. See, this happened to me. It happened, I thought nobody could help, but that was not true. I was helped, by many, many – even though it did not feel like help at the time.
Through my loss I was taught to love my children differently, to cherish what’s simple. So I hold their hands… I look at their fingers… tiny 7-year-old ones, dirty 13 year-old boy fingers and 20 year-old fingers that are just a little more experienced. I love harder, forgive easier and let go of what isn’t good.
Sometimes I struggle with knowing where we go… what is next? Have I done everything just right, have I taught my kids the important lessons. I believe they know the greatest gifts are love, forgiveness and compassion… They know to weather a storm with grace and to find the beauty after.
We were all there…
I was so lucky to spend nearly two weeks the kids in Hawaii…I am always thankful for how close these three are even with the separation in age.
On our first day sitting on the beach, all three kids were yelling. Julianna screaming that Jody was there with us!
This to me is EVERYTHING!