The gift of grief

It’s strange to think of grief as a gift, but it is. I’ve felt the most exquisitely painful and beautiful form of love. We all must die. Death is what gives our lives such weight, such value. Without death, life would be meaningless. Without grief for those that we’ve lost, what worth would love have? Grief shapes us in ways that no other emotion can.

I am not religious nor particularly spiritual, but losing James was like touching the face of God. It was glimpsing all of the beauty and agony in the universe at the same time. I held communion with those who came before me, those who walk this path with me now.

Holding my son in my arms in the moments after he was born and then holding him as he passed from this world, what greater gift than to witness these transitions? It was within me intense, overwhelming love and gratitude for his life at the same time that I felt a sorrow that could swallow me whole.

Today was almost magical. By the mysterious alchemy of the universe, we wound up with 7 kids racing around our yard, kicking a soccer ball, laughing. I visited with friends, and our conversation didn’t focus solely on James’s loss. It was restorative for my soul. I didn’t realize how isolated that I’ve been the past 2 weeks. And I knew that James wouldn’t be upset that I was able to be happy for a time. I was able to set down the grief for a while, knowing that it would waiting for me when I came back to it.

Tonight, James’s palliative care doctor opened his home to us. His oldest son was there, as well as his parents and his wife. It was… well, it was amazing. Perhaps because he is a living link to James, perhaps because there were no expectations of us, perhaps because I knew that no one would tell me how to manage my grief or ask me how I was doing.

They fed us incredible homemade food, we drank wine and beer, we talked and laughed. His mother hugged me, expressed her condolences. His father told me that there is no expiration date on grief – and my heart felt lighter when he acknowledged this. He acknowledged the depth and breadth of our loss. His oldest son played the piano for us.

Sometimes in life, you meet kindred souls that change you, give you purpose, shape you. It’s rare when this happens, but it’s yet another gift that James gave us – this family that welcomed us so warmly in a time of deep grief.

For the first time in 7 months, I took a deep breath and exhaled. I smiled. I felt relaxed.  And I felt James near to us. I missed him, but I felt such deep gratitude for the 5 months that we had with him, and I couldn’t be sad for that.

More than anything, James was a happy baby. Even with his challenges and illnesses, he was never, ever a fussy baby. In fact, if he did fuss, we were on instant alert, because it generally meant that something was genuinely wrong. He was contentment personified. He slept through the night, curled up with me in bed. We spent many, many happy hours together – cuddling, talking, reading.

When I start to flounder in my grief, when I lose my footing, I try to remember James’s contentment, his happiness. He was so incredibly surrounded by love. His doctors loved him, his nurses loved him, his family loved him. His life was short, but it was a rich, full life. I genuinely believe he was happy for all of it, even in the hospital.

I remember that and I try to remind myself to be happy. Yes, I grieve. I will grieve every day of my life until I finally pass through that mysterious door myself. I will never “move on.” I will never forget the feel of my son’s arms around my neck as he slipped from this world, but I will move forward. I will become more in honor of my son. I can contain my love for him, my grief, his legacy, and still exalt in the life that I have been given, that my beautiful children have been given.

As always, little boy, mommy misses your sweet face, your brilliant, wise eyes, and your little voice. I love you always.

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