Monday, October 31, 2016

For the Mourners Among Us

There is a clinic where I work and they treat young children. There are often chalk drawings out on the sidewalks. Sometimes A,B,Cs, sometimes a hopscotch grid and sometimes a drawing. Children play here. It's a happy thing for me when I see their games and drawings.
It's a poignant thing for me when I see a tiny tombstone with no name, but just a word, "Baby." I think even the most dull among us would recognize the loss of hopes and dreams that is carried in this small space.

And let me be clear, it doesn't matter how young or old a child might be when taken by death, it hurts, and "you feel like the days you had were not enough."

On the evening of the first day, you lie down praying it's all a dream, that you'll wake up and your world will be righted. But in the morning you wake again to the hard truth: your child is gone. This continues for some time until eventually, you mostly get your head wrapped around the truth. As I've said before, the topography of your ground has been forever altered. But gradually you settle in to your "new normal."

Then a friend has a niece who is experiencing the loss of her son. You imagine her days and you remember how it was, all the waiting to know, the planning for the services, the raw grief of your loss. You relive your own grief, but from a stronger position than in the beginning. You feel everything again, but this time it's not about you. It's about this new mother who has been inducted into the club no one wants to join.

And you can't quite figure out what to say to your friend because words aren't worth much on occasions like these. Presence is. But you're so far away. All you can think of is how hard this is going to be. You count the loss, which can never be counted. You hold the friend in your heart. You hold the grandmother in your heart. You hold the mother in your heart. What else can you do? It's one of the hardest things a person can ever go through. No parent is supposed to bury their child. But it happens. All the time. You pray this mother will survive her loss.

I read this quote recently. It would not have comforted me in the early days of my loss. It's part of a larger article on connections between the child self and the adult self, where she is musing over a photograph of her and her older sister, who is deceased. She herself was much too young to actually remember the day of the photo, but she says this, and she asks questions--

A person whom one has loved seems altogether too significant a thing to simply vanish altogether from the world. A person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world. How can worlds like these simply cease altogether?  --Rebecca Goldstein

Apart from what I believe about eternity and life after death, one thing I have appropriated for my own comfort is that my son is alive for me as long as I am alive. I carry him deep in the muscle memory of my heart. It's not the same as him being here in the flesh, but my memories of him do bring me comfort, as do the stories we tell each other as a family when we are together and remember him. This is the hope I have for this bereaved mother, that one day, and it will take some time, the memories and the stories will bring comfort and a smile, that she will find her way in her grief, and eventually walk again on steady legs. The loss will never go away. That hole will always be there. For right now, I know that hope seems nearly impossible. I don't know that it gets easier. Most of us learn to live with it. Most of us learn a new way to walk. Some don't. 

Just today I learned that a friend of my eldest daughter lost her brother Friday in a bicycle/automotive accident. Just a couple of weeks ago, I ran into this friend's mother. We hadn't seen each other in many years. We weren't ever close friends, just allies in raising two girls. But we talked a good while. We talked about my son. We talked about my breast cancer, and she told me about hers, about how it'd been nearly fifteen years and now they were seeing something suspicious. We went our separate ways, comrades in breast cancer. And now we are comrades in that club no one wants to join, those parents who have buried their children. Another cycle of grief begins. I don't know that I will make it to the visitation or the funeral. My good intention will be to check on her in the coming days, to be present with her in her loss.

In October, there is always another little boy I remember. He was a childhood friend who lived in our neighborhood, born two years before me, and died in 1969. He was 11 years old. I think of his mom and dad and his three sisters when October rolls around. His parents were among the first ones to come to my parents' door when my brother died, saying they remembered my parents' kindness when their son died. They were years into their grief journey, evidence that one could survive the unthinkable.

I think of these sons, and daughters, too, and I wonder what might have been.


Don't just sit there staring, say something!