Sunday, December 29, 2013

All Grieving Parents Belong to a Terrible Club

Two weeks ago I joined an exclusive club, although I've found it wasn't as exclusive as I would have liked to imagine.

The thing is, nobody wants to get in. No one wants membership, especially the people that have it.

It's made up of people who have lost a child and until you become part of the group, you may never realize how large it is or how much pain there is in the world around you.

In the last two weeks, I've learned about a lot of it because, thanks in no small part to this blog and Facebook, I've reached out and other moms and dads, many of whom I still have not met, have reached back. Old and new friends have shared stories of pain and heartache surrounding a child's addiction and death; others have had a sudden loss; but the painful end result is the same.

We're all stumbling through a life we never expected to live. Our children were supposed to be there for us when we got old. They were supposed to grieve for us in the natural order of things after helping us through our old age and giving us the blessing of grandchildren in which we might live on. And it doesn't matter how many children we have, the loss of a child is like losing a part of our bodies, we feel crippled and maimed and we wonder sometimes why people don't see a visible sign of the pain that we carry.

Although people have said to me that it's not supposed to be this way, and in more modern times we've come to believe that, it is only our perception that this is wrong. As exclusive as this club is, as rare as we like to believe membership may be, it has been around forever.

The first death in the Bible was a son, favored by God and mourned by his mother who bore him in pain and watched him grow. We are not so special. God plotted this course for us from the first named mother sent forth into mortal life. Mary, favored among women, followed the same path when she watched her son, Jesus, die on the cross. She couldn't save him, nor could she know he would rise again in three days. None of that mattered at the time to her because her son, the baby she held in her arms as a crying newborn and watched grow with all the love in her heart, died. Perhaps her grief was short-lived, relieved in three days by an open tomb, but for that time she felt the same pain we feel.

The old family cemetery where my son's body was laid to rest is filled with rows of markers on the graves of children who passed away during some dread disease outbreak a hundred years ago. Not so terribly long ago mothers sometimes bore and buried a half dozen children in the hopes that one would survive to carry on.

While we are not Eve and certainly aren't Mary, and while thankfully I've only suffered this loss once, losing a child, gives us something in common beyond our humanity. I think for mothers, who after all know their child before they ever hold them in their arms, it's a level of pain that no one else can understand. And although I cannot speak to a father's grief, to their hopes and dreams unrealized and their pain, I've cried on the phone with one who still mourns his daughter 10 years after her passing.

Many times during the past two weeks, it has been other members of this group who have helped hold me up when I didn't think I could go on. Their words have held no promise of an end to pain, but they have been honest, caring and supportive. We've cried together about a pain that you learn to live with, a loss that isn't forgotten, a grief that you get through, not over. They've warned me that sometimes I'll be swept right back to where I've been for two weeks -- on a birthday, by a song, maybe just by the slant of the light that will trigger a memory I've forgotten now. We talk about death in a way that most people cannot understand. We're honest with each other in ways we cannot be with anyone else and in ways no one else can be with us.

Going forward, I know there are people I can call on to talk me down from the mental ledges where the "should have beens" and "what ifs" take me. They'll do it in a Facebook message, a text or a call on the phone. I hope there will be times when I can do the same for them.

When my writing voice falters and I wonder why I do this in the mornings, I'll get a message, or reread an old post and realize that despite how this hurts, it's part of healing. It's not just for me, but for someone else who has found themselves a reluctant member of this club. It's my message of hope and survival, my call to someone who needs a friend or stranger to reach out.

We don't want new members -- really. If I had an enemy, I would not wish this on them. But if you find yourself walking this path, hearing those words and opening that box of pain that you never wanted to receive, we're here. All of us.

And while I wish that no one had ever felt this pain, that it really wasn't the natural course of events it too often is, I'm thankful that I don't have to walk this walk alone.

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