“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
Elisabeth Kubler Ross
Today (October 22nd) marks the 4th anniversary of Matthew's death. Four long years since we were with him. Last year I used the word "disbelief" to sum up how I felt on the third anniversary. That isn't the word I would use this year. This year, I am very aware of our new reality--our new normal. I am aware that the image we hold of Matthew will always be that of a 21-year-old young man on the cusp of graduating from college and going out in the world. I am aware that he will not go through all of those rites of passage that one imagines their children going through-the first job after college, a wedding, the joy of fatherhood. I am aware that to the outside world we are now a family of four, not five (even though to us we will always be five). I am aware that our lives changed irrevocably four years ago and we were set on a very different course. So it's no longer a state of disbelief that I find myself in, but rather I am reconciled to our new reality. And of course along with this reality comes the sadness that Matthew is not with us as we move forward with our lives.
I have also come to realize that I am a different person than I was four years ago. Grief does that to you. By surviving the worst possible loss I have emerged both stronger and softer. I also think that having lost my son I, in turn, appreciate my family and friends more than I used to. I know that I live with a heightened sense that it could all change in an instant. Along with this awareness also comes a deepened sense of gratitude for each day that I am given. Isn't it one of life's paradoxes that it's possible to live with great sadness and still experience great joy? It's a wonder that people can go on and live rich full lives in the midst of massive losses. But we do...all the time.
Four years ago when we began this journey I wasn't sure that we could survive it. The grief that fell upon us was crushing, unrelenting and unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was physically and emotionally exhausting to just get through each day. But slowly as that first year passed, and then the second and the third, things began to shift. The jagged edges of our grief began to be smoothed over by the passage of time. The grief is still there, and I fully believe it will always be there. But not in that compressing, debilitating way of the first year.
Matthew lives on in our love for him and in the sharing of our memories of him. I'm filled with gratitude for the short time we had with him. Like Elizabeth Kubler Ross says, we will grieve forever. But the grief we feel is the price we pay for love.