Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Five Years Later

The Uses Of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me 
a box full of darkness. 

It took me years to understand 
that this, too, was a gift.” 

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of Matthew’s death. Five years. It’s almost impossible to wrap my head (and heart) around this indisputable fact. On the one hand, five years ago seems like an eternity, while on the other it seems like only yesterday.

We miss Matthew more than you can know. I spend a lot of time thinking about him, wondering what he would be doing now at the age of 26, (wondering what he IS doing now). It’s a mystery that I hope will one day reveal itself. I’ve learned a lot about grief during these past five years. I’ve learned that grief brings with it great gifts, although they may not be apparent for months or even years later. I discovered that out of this shattering loss, I am grateful more than ever for everything that life has to offer. 

I’m also very aware that my life had been relatively easy before Matthew died. Of course there had been many bumps and sharp curves, and ups and downs. I had lost my wonderful dad when I was in my early 30’s, and a dear friend died five years before Matthew. Both of these losses created huge holes in my life. But nothing prepared me for the grief that fell upon our family five years ago.  Matthew’s death brought us to our knees, and overnight our world shifted on its axis. 

I remember a father and son came to visit us in the first week when we were sitting shiva. He had coached Matthew in baseball, and had tragically lost his daughter (also in her 20’s) to a brain aneurysm three years before. When they came into our house, I was struck by how tender and fragile they seemed. I remember looking at them—three years further ahead on the journey—and realizing then just how devastating this loss would be. I honestly think we were still in a bit of shock that first week. I saw that time would not erase the hole that had just been etched into my heart. I also saw that a special connection occurs between other families who lose children. I was now a member of a club no parent EVER wants to join.

My sorrow has made me more aware of others’ pain and sorrow. It’s made me ponder the whys of life in much more heartfelt ways than before. In my case, it led me to working with others who have experienced overwhelming loss, and I now facilitate Grief Support Groups. I am comfortable in the role of creating safe spaces for people to share their stories in their darkest moments. I consider it an honor to sit amongst the bereaved and “companion” them along their journeys.

Writing has also been immensely helpful to me these past five years. I started this blog 17 months after Matthew’s passing, and have been grateful for this forum. Not only has it been a way to process my own grief, but I have met so many others who wrote me with their stories. I have been truly humbled by others’ experiences. But I think I am going to wrap up Grief & Gratitude. I will, of course, leave it up and welcome anyone to forward it on to someone you think might benefit by reading the words of a bereaved mom. I am also always willing to be contacted by e-mail should someone want to “talk.” I see that as part of my new role in life. But I don’t think I am going to continue on with the blog. I feel like I have said what I needed to say, and I have some other writing I’d like to do. I am grateful to all of you who have read Grief & Gratitude over the years. Your comments and support have helped me more than you will ever know. Thank you.

No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow (or even in the next hour). It is the rare person who does not experience many losses in the course of a lifetime. It’s the cost of being human, and of loving. We don’t have control over these events, or I would argue, many events. Life happens. It’s what you do afterwards that is in your control. You do have a choice then as to how you move forward with your new reality. You can let your heart, which has been broken into a million pieces, remain on the ground with its jagged edges strewn about, cutting you and others as you tiptoe through your new existence.  Or you can begin the hard task of putting it back together again. It will be very different, and will never go back to how it once was. But, like a beautiful mosaic, it will take on a new shape and have new meaning.  And all those little pieces that don’t quite fit together like they used to, will let the light in and out as you move through the world.

Life is hard, there’s no doubt about that. We live in a seemingly broken world.  But I found out that we are remarkably resilient beings. I learned as we make our way through our messy, unpredictable lives that it’s the connections we make along the way that really matter. Each of these connections, whether a brief one-time encounter at the grocery store or a longstanding friendship, gets woven into our very essence, making us who we are. We should all try to remember to be gentle with one another as we laugh and cry and breathe and love our way through our time on earth. Let’s inspire each other and lend a hand or an ear when we can. We don’t know how long we’ve got, so we might as well treat the time we have, like the gift it is. Namaste.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Heart Breaks for the Bidens...

Dear Vice President Biden,

The world woke up this morning to the news that your beloved son Beau had died. There are times when the only words that make any sense are “I am so sorry for your loss.” They sound trivial and somehow not sufficient enough, and yet nothing else makes much sense,

For me, there is an added poignancy to this news.  In the fall of 2010 our 21-year-old son Matthew died following a virulent form of strep that attacked his heart. In those dark, early days, weeks and months, I struggled to make sense of this most unimaginable of losses—the death of a child. As my family and I made it through that first year, I found myself needing to see who had also gone through such a loss. As my search widened beyond my own community, your story came up. The story of how as a newly elected senator your wife and baby daughter had died in a car crash. I read how you stood vigilant at your sons’ bedsides, how you were sworn in at the hospital, and how you commuted back and forth from Washington D.C. to Delaware so that your sons could be raised at home. I read up on it all, and it made a difference.

Your story stood as a beacon of hope for me as I struggled through that first year. You showed me the resiliency of the human spirit and that life does indeed go on. You demonstrated through your actions that you can in fact survive to make a difference in the world. Forever and irrevocably changed, but not giving into the despair, which must have resided just beneath the surface (at least in the beginning). I am eternally grateful to you for showing me that.

So now as you lay another child to rest and stand side by side with grief I, and so many others, weep with you. You raised a remarkable son, who followed in your footsteps and served his country, his community and his family well. You should be very proud.  He was taken much too early, but he lived his life honorably and with integrity.

I walk with you in solidarity Vice-president Biden, as a fellow bereaved parent. May Beau’s memory be a blessing to you forever.


Robin Gaphni

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Circle

Today I'm going to post a piece that came out of a writing retreat I attended in December 2013. The retreat was called Relax and Write, and was led by Maia Danziger (and it was wonderful).  I highly recommend attending any of Maia's retreats.

Anyway, this is one of three pieces that came out of the retreat, and it has been published over at The Manifest Station. Here's a link to The Circle.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy 26th Birthday!

"Your life begins when someone says your name. Your life ends when someone stops saying your name." 

Today is Matthew's birthday. Twenty-six years ago my husband and I became parents and our world and our hearts expanded in ways we never could have imagined.  Matthew was the one who first taught us to be parents, and we are so grateful for his presence in our lives, even though it was cut tragically short. 

We've celebrated five birthdays since he died, and I've written about two of them, here and here. One thing that I've learned these past five years is that one doesn't get over the loss of a child...ever.  There will always be a huge Matthew-shaped hole in my heart, and I wouldn't want it any other way. That loss is a part of me, and always will be. 

For bereaved parents there are now two days that we commemorate our children each year-their birthday and the day they died. Obviously, the anniversary of their death has a very different feel to it than their birthday. Their birthday is still a day of celebration and joy. So if I have any advice to people who wonder if they should acknowledge the birthday of a child who has passed, I would say absolutely.  Memories are all we have now, and we cling to them so that our children continue to exist. Birthdays are a way to acknowledge and celebrate a child's arrival into our lives however many years ago it was, even if they aren't actually here to blow out the candles on the cake.

So today, on Matthew's birthday, we are going to celebrate him, his life and all that he meant to us. We are actually going to Palm Springs to attend a film festival, something our movie buff son would certainly approve. We will take a long walk in the desert this afternoon and go out for Mexican food tonight (one of his favorites) and we will toast the unique and wonderful person that Matthew was. We will always be grateful for the time we had with him. 

I've shared this version of Forever Young before. I guess it's become an anthem of sorts to me. We love you Matthew.