Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever… ~Isak Dinesen
On Sunday, I attended the funeral of the father of a friend of mine. He was in his late 80's and lived a long, productive and happy life. All of his children spoke lovingly of him, as did four of his grandchildren. He was dearly beloved throughout the community and it was obvious that he impacted the lives of many. One can only hope to lead as productive and fulfilling a life as he did. The thing is, he lost a child to cancer years ago. It was mentioned a couple of times at the funeral, and of course, one realizes the impact that must have had on him. But from all appearances, he didn't let it define or stall him. He continued on, while no doubt still carrying the burden of losing his daughter with him.
It's really quite remarkable that humans are able to survive the most horrible of losses and carry on, sometimes with a renewed passion to right a wrong. Think about the mothers that started MADD. Since I come from the perspective of a bereaved parent, I know that one is forever changed by the loss of a child. There's no turning back; your life without your child is your new normal. But, as the jagged edges smooth out a bit, you have to begin to envision your life as it is now and figure out how to keep living. Often times there's a renewed sense of purpose or a redefinition of what is really important. Small things seem exactly that-small and trivial. There can be a desire to make connections with others on a deeper level, or to work harder for causes that you believe in. There's a new understanding (born out of our new reality) that life is impermanent and fleeting. So why not make the most of what we have right now. It's not a bad way to live life with the understanding that it can all change in an instant. At least that's been my experience.
I was talking to a friend a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about palliative care and end-of-life decisions. Really upbeat stuff. Anyway, at one point we somehow got into the more personal, and she looked at me and said she couldn't go on if one of her children died. I looked her in the eyes and said that yes, she could. She could go on. I think it jolted her a bit, because she kind of shook it off and said of course, she realizes she could but that she couldn't imagine going on. (That's a different thing.) Before Matthew died, I think I might have said something like that too. But I know better now. I know that one can survive, even if you think that you can't. Life has a strange way of continuing on even when your world has been profoundly changed. The sun rises, the sun sets and in between you make something of your days. The hope is that you mark them in ways that are meaningful to you and to others, and that you live them with purpose and love. And of course, you are always carrying the memory of your child with you.
I want to end by sharing two very good articles on grief that have been circulating around the internet the past two weeks. One is out of Sojourners Magazine and is called A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma by Catherine Woodiwiss. The other is written by David Brooks and is called The Art of Presence. It's actually about the Woodiwiss family and continues the dialogue that Catherine Woodiwiss started about how to help someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one or has experienced a tragedy. Both are worth reading and probably worth bookmarking for those times when you might wonder how to be with someone in deep pain.
Thank you Robin. I am learning these lessons every day. It had been 30 days since we buried our beloved son, Jake. Yes, life goes on. The people around you have no idea what you are going through, so you find a way to continue. Right now we are simply looking at the next step on the staircase, not really concerned where it is going. We just know it is going up. We take that step and then the next one and so on. We still haven't reached anything like the new normal, but we get glimpses of it occasionally. I have read the Art of Presence article, and in fact wrote something similar the other day, before I was aware if it. THis experience has some fundamental truths that resonate with anyone who has lost a child. People can only imagine, as you say what it is like. I wouldn't wish what it takes to gain full understanding on anyone.ReplyDelete
You are still in the early days (having just passed the shloshim marker), and yet your wisdom is already coming through in your writings. You are making Jake proud. And you are so right, we would never wish this on anyone. Thinking of you as you continue down this path. I walk in solidarity with you my friend.
Thank you, Robin - this is beautifully said and it will encourage others. xoxoReplyDelete
Thank YOU Karen, for your ongoing presence in my life. x,oDelete
Robin, it's been so long since I've written to you. I stepped away from commenting after my email was hacked, and have recently begun to stick my neck out into blog-world again. I still stop here faithfully to read your thoughts. ...you, who buried your child after I did mine... your thoughts, mirroring mine in so many ways.ReplyDelete
This post in particular made me think of one I wrote in June of 2011 about the contrast and necessary integration of the lives we live now with our lives "before", and our ability to survive after our children were taken from us. In part I wrote, "I tell people I'm not who I once was. I don't know if they really understand. Some do. I guess. I hope. For a long time after Erin was diagnosed with cancer I'd said that if she didn't survive, if I had to one day bury my child, then they'd have to put me in the earth right alongside her. They did. A large part of who I once was is in that ground. Gone." and "The deaths of Skye and Dr Nachman caused eruptions of fresh pain. It's pain that's always under the surface, but pushed deep to the core by the necessity of everyday living. One has to function and smile. It's expected. And I want to do so. Most of the time." I go on to talk about integrating those jagged edges, and it's hard work.
But you're right. We eventually find our way, and it's often fueled by our perspective gained from these experiences that were not of our choosing. We reach out and lift one another up. A friend who lost her son around the time I lost Erin just forwarded the articles you reference above. Certain individuals have the ability to articulate these difficult emotions in a way that's straight-forward, yet heartfelt and soulful. These are a fine example. I'm glad you shared them here for others to read.
Be well, Robin. Thank you for your lovely email in remembrance of Erin's anniversary in December. I'll still be here in Illinois reading... if I don't freeze. What a winter we're having!
Peace and love to you,
Thank you for this. I don't know if I shared with you how important your blog was to me in those early weeks and months after Matthew died. You were a year ahead of me, and I grasped onto your words as proof that one survives. I read your blog backwards and forwards, sometimes in the wee part of the night; it was like a life preserver tossed in my direction and I grabbed on to it with everything I had. So thank you. And I'm glad to see that you are writing publicly again. Your voice needs to be heard.
Love to you.
I always appreciate your thoughtful and positive posts. I wonder if bereaved parents ever really find a comfortable way to go on with life or if we must constantly search for some sort of peace and balance. Maybe things are a little less ragged after a few years....at least I hope so.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your note. It's good to hear from you. I wonder many of the same things, and can only hope that things "smooth" out with the passage of time. Thinking of you...
Robin thank you, I always experience you as a loving presence.ReplyDelete