Grief is messy. No one likes a mess, and so people look away, pretend it’s not there. Everyone wants a happy ending to the story. Everyone wants the nice little bow wrapped around the package.
I remember several years ago that I somehow stumbled on a blog about a little boy named Tripp. He had a terrible disease called epidermolysis bullosa. As is the norm (I’ve now realized), I had never heard of it. It is a horrifying disease – absolutely shattering – in my opinion, much worse than anything that we faced with James. I followed the blog closely as Tripp struggled, sensing that the end for him would not be long.
And then he died. And I stopped reading. I can’t tell you why I stopped. My heart genuinely ached for this mother, for that sweet little boy. But his story had “ended.” There was nothing else to read, right?
Well, our story hasn’t ended. James may be gone, but we are still here – loving him, mourning him, aching for him. We are still here, getting up every morning and trying to face the day. We are still here, stretching out our open hands to others, trying to offer comfort, the gifts that we have to give others.
I get asked if I’m “ok” on a near daily basis. Honestly? No, I’m not ok. I am as far from ok as I could possibly get without going full circle. I am – as someone else so eloquently put it – bleeding to death inside.
I held my son, my sweet, chubby, bright-eyed baby, in my arms as he died. In that moment, despite everything, I wanted to die with him, to close my eyes and never feel this pain. I witnessed his last breaths for all time. I felt his heart against mine, slowing, slowing, gone. He slipped away even though I held him against my mother’s heart. How could I be holding my baby and not save him? How do you survive it? How do you go on?
The Catherine that you knew is gone. The Catherine that believed in happy endings and shiny packages neatly tied with bows – she’s gone. The Catherine that arrogantly believed that nothing truly bad would ever happen to her – she has learned a valuable lesson. She learned that life is short and that it can be more painful than any of us ever expected or knew.
And despite that, I would do it again. All of it. Just for five minutes with that bushy-haired little man with his wise eyes. For those of you that are afraid – afraid of death, afraid of what could happen – fear not. Fearing to lose something that you’ve never had is the saddest reason that I can think of to miss out on life experiences. Does it hurt? Yes, as if a thousand tiny shards of my broken heart are cutting into me every breath I take. Do I miss him? More than words could ever hope to capture. Would I do it again? Over and over. Just for five more minutes. A million lives in front of me – and I would still choose him and this path.
And don’t turn away from those of us that are grieving such a tremendous loss. Walk beside us. Sit with us. Listen when we talk about our children. Say our child’s name, as naturally as you would say Evaline or Hazel. They are part of us forever. There is no hurting us by remembering, by uttering those precious syllables. The only hurt is when those we love say nothing.