51. A Survival Kit
They say that couples, like branches on a family tree, often break apart after the death of a child. I have looked closely at the statistics, and the numbers do not support this belief. It is apparently an urban legend of sorts. But itís true we grieve deeply and alone in so many ways, and our grief can so weight us down that we do not pay adequate attention to our loved ones.
I have also read that we mirror the sorrow of our spouse, sharply reflecting the pain, forcing us to look away. I donít believe this is true either. I saw Lindaís pain. I wanted to reach out to her in any way I could. Her pain was mine.
Fortunately Lindaís confidence continued to grow during the fifth year. Rooted in her own struggle, she was now convinced she should create a survival kit for others, orderly, tucked in, numbered. She was right. And she did. Here it is:
How have I survived?? I often wonder about that. I stand outside of myself and say ďHow is this person still living and breathing?Ē I am amazed it is me that has gone through this excruciating trauma and come out on the other end, a changed but whole person. Here are some reasons that come to mind.
1. I am sure Jonathan would not forgive me if I stayed in that place of constant sorrow and deep pain. He loved life and wanted everyone around him to love life with him. My reentry into life has been with Jonathan by my side, coaxing me slowly but surely.
2. I must go on and do things that keep Jonathanís memory alive. It gives me pleasure to give a social justice scholarship in his name at the university, to work on the board of an organization that battles addiction or simply to help newly bereaved parents at Compassionate Friends. It gives me pleasure to talk about Jonathan to people who knew him and to people who did not. It gives me pleasure to remember Jonathan and to think about all the wonderful times. All of this keeps his memory alive.
3. I am still a mother and must show Jeremy that our lives, though changed, will go on and be productive and happy. He too will help keep Jonathanís memory alive and will carry the happy memories of his brother with him forever.
4. Parental grieving is hard work and takes a very long time. It is a job forever. It zaps your energy and strength and makes you feel like you are going crazy. The world goes on but you are outside of it and for you, the world has stopped. I often feel that I got off the spinning world for 3 or 4 years and when I slowly inched my way back on, everything had changed. I felt like I was in a foreign country. But life pulls you back in and you find yourself feeling some of those old feelings of joy. Maybe they are not as intense as before but they are there.
5. Before Jonathanís death, things just seemed to work out. Our life was on a good path, we were lucky. When something was particularly worrisome, it seemed to turn out ok. I looked around me and saw tragedy hitting other families, but I was sure that it would not hit ours. After Jonathanís death, things are different - I am different. Certainly, my priorities have changed. I understand that much of life is out of my control and I do not worry as much. Other things are just not that important and must be addressed with much less thought. I think I am a more compassionate and less judgmental person. I am more patient. I know if I am feeling sad and stuck, this will change and will get better. When I was at the beginning of my journey in this new life, I did not think† I would ever come out of the darkness.
6. Time does help. Our pain gets less intense and more manageable. We learn how to manage the bad times and take advantage of the good. We learn to accept the sadness of holidays and special occasions and how to appreciate the gift when we are surprised by joy. We learn how to put the pain and sorrow away and take it out in small pieces rather than all at once. We learn how to remember the wonderful times with our children and to smile when we are thinking about them. The bitterness and anger begin to fade, perhaps to return again and again but with less intensity and for shorter periods of time. Our sorrow will never go away and we will never stop missing our children, but they are as much a part of our new lives as they were of the old, but now in a different way.
Copyright @ 2003 Robert Waxler. All rights reserved.