....Last things last By the grace of the fire and the flames You're the face of the future, the blood in my veins, oh ooh The blood in my veins, oh ooh But they never did, ever lived, ebbing and flowing Inhibited, limited 'Til it broke up and it rained down It rained down, like PAIN. You made me a, you made me a believer, believer (Pain, pain) You break me down, you built me up, believer, believer (Pain) I let the bullets fly, oh let them rain My life, my love, my drive, it came from (Pain) You made me a, you made me a believer, believer Imagine Dragons, 2017*
I recently joined a rather large – more than 1200 members – closed Facebook group for bereaved parents.
I was actually a little wary of doing so: you see, it is easy to get lost in grief….to let it rise up, like dark waters, and consume everything you think, say and see. You can so easily pull away from “normal” people who have not lost a child (they don’t understand!), and surround yourself only with others who are swimming in that same ocean of tears. I was concerned that would happen to me if I spent too much time in grief groups, on this Facebook page and others (there are so so many) that deal with child-loss; I feared that experiencing so much more sorrow would compound my grief and delay any hope of healing. And…there is a LOT of sadness (oh God, so much pain) expressed in that sacred, honest space; however, there is also enormous resilience, compassion, encouragement and hope.
What I’m finding there is Real Life…at its inescapably grittiest, but also at its most expectant. Life that includes profound horror, defies pat answers, and makes a mockery of the “hope” offered through pastel drawings of cherubs, puffy clouds and a pink-cheeked, blue-eyed sweet Jesus. Death knocked down the front door and snatched our child away, often in the blink of an eye, often as we watched over weeks and months and years, impotent and helpless. We are left here, dazed, to grapple – to try and comprehend what, exactly, just happened. We don’t want “wimpy” Jesus to pat us on the head and hand us a lamb – we want a Warrior God with hot, angry tears in His eyes, fierce with love and determination; God Almighty who will ACT, because we are fighting dragons now: enormous sadness; anger, resentment, denial, PTSD, depression, nightmares. Even though 2 years have passed by, I am sometimes stuck at the precipice all over again, staring down the yawning, gaping Mark-shaped hole in the present and in any possible future.
At a recent grief counseling appointment, Sarah noted, tears streaming, she would never have any nieces or nephews from within our little family. I had not even thought of that particular sorrow, unique to a sibling, unique to Mark’s only sister. Oh, hearts can keep breaking.
One of the biggest dragons we fight is ourselves – we fight this process, we fight accepting reality because reality HURTS. I want to be FREE of this torment, this pain – it aches, it burns, it is relentless. I want to run away and sometimes do (by getting really busy, by picking up a project, by working-working-working; in the evenings, it’s so easy to let one drink turn into two…three), until the reminders stack up, the memories link up to form a chain that I finally trip over, and the tears come once more. It is then I realize I need to linger, I must learn to stay in that hard, weeping place because it’s important to hold myself there, to deny myself that escape…until all the lies I tell myself are burned away.
And then: there is the inexplicable, the mysterious that defies everything we’ve ever known (I have yet to meet a bereaved parent who says, “Well. She’s dead. That’s that.”). The minute I knew Mark was dead I had to know he Still IS. My religion said “he’s in heaven now” but I had to have proof, and I wanted to know how far. Signs were anxiously prayed for, demanded, sought. Some days I felt like a string was attached to my heart, its other end still attached to Mark, and I would feel the line was still taut…but… how can I find you? Hear you? We who grieve can spend hours and days and months searching, listening, reading, seeking, trying to grapple with this monstrous loss while also trying to understand if our loved one is still here, somehow, but speaking a new language. Hope battles fear. Where are you? Where ARE you? Wait – was that you???
Some days you kind of stumble over wonder: that special song, a heart-shaped leaf, a delicate white feather, stunning rainbows, vivid dreams, a cloud of butterflies, oh – a dime! I have felt an awareness that I have been “too” consumed in this pursuit, my entire soul riding that see-saw of emotions and – if you are me – you kind of know your brain is too clouded, your heart too leaky, to receive – much less hold – the answers to all your questions…but you keep asking anyhow.
On the days when the light breaks through….hope breaks through, even if only briefly. Write it down. Build a little tower of stones. Do something to commemorate the days when you see light – what was going on? What were you thinking?
There was the moment a couple of weeks ago, where I was actually focusing on the joy of having had those 19+ years of love and laughter and I felt…like Mark was thinking the same thing. I told him how much I like his surprises; how I try not to ruin them by looking so hard, how I wish I could surprise him, too. I got out of my car and practically stepped on a nickel.
Or…or when I walked to the country club again, where Mark was a short order cook in the poolside cafe, and on the way back I decided to run a little in the street…and when I saw the coins – penny, dime, quarter, all in a line – I started to get dismissive (people drop coins out of their pockets when they get in and out of cars!) until I saw the 4th item in the row, just beyond the quarter, like the coins were an arrow pointing to it: a tiny Playmobil spatula…a burger flipper. Are you KIDDING?!!
And all the while, the rest of life is calling. Spouses, our other child(ren), extended family (perhaps even grandchildren), friends, employers – all wanting, needing and deserving our presence and attention, craving our love. Relationship must be sustained….I must be present, pay attention, give and receive. Groceries must be bought, meals cooked, laundry washed and folded, birthdays celebrated. Holidays come and go.
In other words: Life continues, and it isn’t all mundane or easy. More pain shows up in community, in our families – other beloved people die (slowly or quickly, sometimes because of something they did to themselves), tiny children get cancer, marriages end. I am, we are, over-sensitized, skin scraped raw and tender, to the world’s woes. Some days I just cannot, I cannot face more; but here and there, bit by bit, I’m choosing to jump in because the worst thing already happened to me, and I want to be there with you…even if I’m clumsy and weepy and don’t say a lot.
So, this is what I am grappling with: how do we get to that elusive place of peace and balance, of learning to live fully HERE (fully embracing it, being fully attentive to our loved ones here)…while actively (and necessarily) grieving the loss of our child’s physical body…while seeking them in their new home? (If you are thinking that last bit is weird….that we should “let Mark go”….try walking in these shoes). And how do we do this in the days and weeks when there is no light at all?
(To be continued….)
*I love this song…the beat, the lyrics. It just speaks to me right now. For those who find release and strength in exercise: it is a powerful tune for working out HARD.