“ grief is a spiral…but am I going up or coming down?” ~ C.S. Lewis.
I’ve written on this blog about the time I received a phonecall when I was in law school in California to tell me that my son in Boston had been viciously assaulted and was in intensive care on life support. They did not know if he would still be alive as I made the journey east. It was, without parallel, the worst moment of my life.
I don’t know what I did next. I walked in circles…my friend put me on a plane…and I sat there with five miserable hours to go before I would know how he was. Really was.
As I flew across the country, I had to keep it together lest I just start screaming at the top of my lungs.
Why would someone do this to him? He was a young man in his early 20s with so much to give, so much life to live. Why would someone do this to me? Why would someone want to take my baby? My child? The baby I carried, the bubbly young boy I raised? The teenager I nurtured and gave firm guidance to through those moody years. Who? Why? Why him? Why me? Why now?
As someone who spent years counseling grieving others, I had known my own losses…..many losses. I believe, as my teacher John James of the Grief Recovery Institute told me, that being able to be with others during their most painful times, is a gift. An unwanted gift, maybe, but a gift.
John was able to be there for others after losing his young son and working through his grief by studying the grief process and sharing with others. He said he would have preferred that his gift be the ability to play shortstop but it was not…it was learning how to be with others in their grief. Over the years, I’ve just accepted that…I would like to play piano (or even shortstop) but that wasn’t what I was given. I was given the ability to be with others in their darkest moments.
And there I was in my own darkest moment all alone. The whys and the pounding pounding pounding was in my brain. As parents we remember our children at certain stages and ages.
For me, my son Michael, who was now lying in ICU, was a bubbly curly headed 3 year old who only talked to me. Michael was voted “Shyest Boy” in kindergarten but he wasn’t really shy. He just didn’t suffer fools and couldn’t be bothered having conversations with people he didn’t like or didn’t want to get to know. He kept this trait all his life.
I would come home with him and he would chit chat away. I would sit on my bed and he would sit next to me, telling me, animatedly, all about his day. He was adorable and funny. I just loved this kid.
With others he was withdrawn and as he got older, people thought him angry or sullen, but he was always my curly headed little kid and we had a special connection and rapport. I was always there for him and he knew it.
As I flew across the country, I could only see my 3 year old baby and the question as to why anyone would want to take him from me. He wasn’t anyone else’s 3 year old little curly headed kid. Only mine. Why did some random stranger want to take that from me? Why would anyone want to take anyone away from someone who loves them? Why would anyone want a mother to lose a precious child? I didn’t get it.
The numbness kept me going but I knew that if things took a turn for the worst, I would be in agonizing pain and unable to think, eat, breathe or function for quite a while. During that plane ride I wondered if I would lose my mind, if finally this would be too much in a way all the other horribles of my life had not been. I knew I would never be the same.
I know that the grief process involves a rollercoaster ride of emotions and the review and relinquishment process. I did not want to review my son’s entire life. I didn’t want to review and I didn’t want to relinquish. I wanted it all to have not happened.
I knew that there would be a searching component, where I would try to call him…where I would actually dial his number even though I knew he was not there….
I knew I feel guilty for all the things I didn’t do…most of all for not being there to protect him.
I knew I would be angry to the point of being homicidal and sad to the point of being suicidal…but I knew that for the rest of the family I would need to go on.
I knew grief intimately. Both as someone who has been through it and as a counselor and therapist, but each grief is different. Each loss is different. Only I lost this person at this time. Grief is universal yet incredibly individual. No two losses are alike, no two grief processes are alike. Nothing is the same. When you are in the spiral, are you going up or down?
Sharing the grief is important and talking is important. I also knew that parents who lose children are unintentionally ostracized by other parents. It seems to be connected to: if you lost your child, I can lose mine and I don’t want to think of that horrible thing. And you remind them of the horrible thing they don’t want to know exists…and they move away. They don’t mean to, but they do.
My best friend had children. She had gotten me to the airport, paid for my ticket and put me on the plane. Would I lose her too? There are so many secondary losses in grief. And they are all unfair.
As we landed I held my breath, I could not handle him not being there when I arrived. I could not handle it.
My youngest son, the closest person to his brother, greeted me at the airport. “Mom,” he said, “Mike is awake. I think he’s going to be okay.” I almost collapsed in his arms.
Michael’s recovery was long and slow but he is okay now…almost five years later.
I will never forget that day and I will never forget coming face-to-face with the possibility, the strong possibility, of losing my child. It was the single most horrible moment of my life.
The grief process is long and hard, but love softens it.
Please give love and prayers to all those who mourn the loss of a colleague, a parent, a friend and especially a child today.
Send them your thoughts and condolences and let them know you will be there in the weeks and months ahead. That part is SO important.
Today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.