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.