I read a lot of grief articles. I think that’s why I don’t write more of my own. When something is said over and over I feel that it’s redundant and unnecessary for me to rehash or reword the same. I find that the overarching goal of these pieces is to either try to support the grieving, or perhaps more so in the case of child loss, to offer some attempt to help others understand this ultimate loss. There are SO many great analogies that have resonated with me….but anyone who has lost a child knows that there is simply no human way to explain the unexplainable pain and day-to-day struggle. But I will try like others have before me.
I think the best example of the difference in imagining the pain of the loss to the actual experience is labor pain and child birth. As I found for myself before I had my first child, one can try to explain the childbirth experience to a pregnant mom and she will listen. She can read books and watch shows and videos. She can certainly attempt and have some small realization of the experience she is about to have. She knows well it will hurt deeply and prepares herself for the worst: but when it comes that day-the story is usually that it’s nothing she could ever have imagined in her wildest expectations. That’s exactly what I think child loss is like. You can read all about it. You know it will hurt. You know it will change you. You can imagine it and try to understand it, but you simply don’t know even the half of it until it happens to you.
But what about the other parents? Adoptive parents or father’s who can’t experience this disparity from what I described, and thus don’t have that comparison? I think I have experienced another analogous situation in some miniscule fragment this last week. Many people have actually already experienced this before me, if you’ve ever sent your kids off in this day of constant digital connection.
This week I sent my 13 year old only living child on an excursion. He went on a canoeing trip for 6 nights and seven days without any contact with me. As most modern parents would be, I was certainly beyond thrilled to have him be “unplugged” for a week! Back to nature, conversations, and not missing anything. Yes!! Bring it on!!
But as the week ensued I learned something–I FELT something I hadn’t felt this last two years since Chase died. I felt the silence. The disconnect. The “not knowing” where he was or what he was doing. The uncomfortable knowing that I couldn’t talk to him when I wanted to or needed to. For six nights I had no access to EITHER of my kids. I have spent over two years with no access to one of them, but a week without both of them was new territory. Of course I knew in my heart my living boy was fine and that I would see him in a few days, but it still gave me pause and taught me something.
First, it made me realize how very much those who have lost children do subsist and survive for their living kids, even though we often struggle in doing that as well as we want. That’s probably good and bad, since we still need to have our own purposes, and be careful not to place all our sense of purpose on our living kids, especially if there is only one left here.
Second, it made me feel so deeply for those who have lost an only child or each of/all their children, which tragically and unbelievably does happen. I don’t much like to think about that scenario, but a week without contact with either of my kids gave me a little taste of what that would feel like. In a word, it was unbearable.
This is such a simple thing that many parents often experience as they send their kiddos to sleepaway camps or have some stretch of time with no connection. So if you have a friend who has lost a child and you are truly trying to understand them, the next time you have a few days without being able to text or call or even locate where their phones are for a piece of comfort-take a moment to imagine if that was your life-FOREVER. FOREVER WONDERING: Where are you? Are you okay? Are you having fun? Do you miss me and want to talk to me? Do you need me?
Forever wanting the stories, the memories, the photos-most of which you will get at the end of your child’s absence-but what if there was no end? No stories, no memories, no pictures? They just went off on their excursion and you never get to see them again. Even though you trust that they are “okay” and “happy”…sorry no bars, no network, no service. They are just out there somewhere.
Imagine the sadness of forever looking at your phone and wanting to send a text just to say “hi”. But knowing there will never ever be a response because their phone is sitting next to you and it would be like talking to yourself. Knowing somehow they are out there somewhere for eternity-somewhere where no one you know has ever been and returned-and you have to just trust that it exists and know they are okay.
If you can do that you might come a bit closer to small understanding of how we feel each and every day. 24/7/365/forever.
I know you’re okay my love. But what I would give to talk to you and hear how your trip is going so far.