It has begun – a mental countdown to the day my son took his last breath in my arms. It’s replay time! Time to replay every decision leading up to his death, was it right, was it wrong, was there even a right or a wrong? Does it matter now? The decision is made. His life has ended. Monday morning quarterbacking changes nothing.
I want to believe that some day, I’m going to feel better. Someday, I am going to wake up, and there won’t be a tremendous weight on my chest. I’ll be able to draw a deep breath. I’ll be able to laugh again – to really, really laugh. I’ll look forward to the holidays again rather than just hoping and praying that I’ll wake up tomorrow, and it will be January 15 or so. Right now, it feels like the days before me are endless. It doesn’t matter how many there are – one day or 6,000 – it seems like an eternity.
It’s weird to be so isolated from most of the rest of the world. I look at other mothers, and I think that surely, they must get it. They must understand, deep down, what it is like to lose a child. Surely. In their deepest, blackest nightmares, surely they dreamed of this terror? In their moments of worst anxiety, didn’t they picture what it must feel like to never hold your baby again? To never breathe in that baby smell? To never hear that tiny voice? To never touch those tiny fingers?
And then I remember that even though they might have imagined it, might have let themselves into that dark pit of despair for just a moment, that it was precisely that – a moment. And then the mind, always protecting itself, pulls a curtain over that vision, shrouding it in mystery – for it is a mystery, this kind of drowning, numbing, horrible grief – to those who haven’t suffered it.
Can I just be honest for a second and tell it like it is?
We are never going back to who we were before this happened. We are never going to be “better.” We are never going to “move on.” Yes. Our lives will move forwards. Nature’s imperative insists that we must. We cannot stay frozen in time. And yet, we have seen something that most people haven’t (not yet) – the truth behind this curtain of life. We have seen that life is fragile, delicate, a flickering candle flame that can be snuffed out without a moment’s notice. We understand in a way that others don’t, that this life is not guaranteed to any of us. None of us are golden. None of us are special or protected.
Once those things are seen, they cannot be unseen. The mundane, the frivolous, the petty, now they only serve to anger us, because we can’t see how people spend their time worrying about them. We are mystified by how the world just continues on around us, how relationships that always frustrated us aren’t magically fixed by this loss. We feel guilty sometimes for our grief, and we (foolishly) put others’ needs before our own when we are floundering in a sea of sadness.
So, I am going to be real with you right now.
Most of us in deep grief don’t enjoy or look forward to the holidays. We muddle through them as best we can, fulfilling obligations where we can, hoping against hope that we will wake up and magically, it will be the middle of January, all the while, knowing it won’t. We will be like this for a long, long time. Many years, I suspect, will pass me by before I can find joy in this time of year again.
Don’t give us platitudes. Don’t tell us to be grateful for the children that we do have and to find joy in the season for them. We try. And when we fail, that failure creeps into our core and sticks there. Don’t be offended if we turn down invitations to parties or family gatherings. And if we do show up, don’t avoid the topic of our loss. If you ask us how we are doing, then be prepared to really hear how we are doing. It’s not likely to be cheerful, and I guarantee that it will be hard and there will likely be tears. But there are worse things in life than tears.
If we slip away from the gathering, don’t be offended and don’t come look for us. At this time of year, amidst all of the merciless cheeriness, we are nursing wounds that the holidays re-open. Give us space. Even hold space for us. Don’t try to fix us. Don’t ask if we’re still seeing a counselor, if we’re still on an anti-depressant, if we’ve read this book or that book. You can’t fix us. There is no fix for this pain. Just be there with us, acknowledge our loss, and let us be.
You can say things like “I cry for James too” or “I miss him too.” Or “I’m sorry. I know how hard this time of year must be. What can I do?” Better yet – don’t ask. Just do. Show up, take my kids for the day, let me nap, let me cry, let me break Goodwill plates with a baseball bat. Cook me dinner. And if you’re reading this and you only know me vaguely, then do it for someone in your life that is struggling – with grief, with loss, with illness, with postpartum depression, with loneliness. I have found that one way to temporarily leave this hellish pit is to help someone else. It’s only a temporary reprieve, but it’s one way that James lives on and that I keep his gifts in my heart.
With that, I will leave you. My thoughts, as always, unfiltered and uncensored, for the most part.