Thursday, January 8, 2015
What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger
What doesn't kill us does make us stronger.
Most of us go through life with a mental list of the things we don't believe we could survive. The list is generally the things we fear most -- not the phobias that make us laugh nervously in a crowd, but the things we don't talk about, the things we see happen to other people and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving because they aren't happening to us.
That list might include cancer, debilitating injury or disease, living with addiction, and loss in myriad forms.
For a parent, that list would be topped by the death of your child.
It's the darkest place you can imagine going, the thing you shy away from facing. When it happens to a friend, you struggle with what to do and say and may even try to avoid it because your own fears drive you to deny that reality. Even when it happens to a stranger, you feel some internal tug.
That's the world where I used to live. It's a place where my absolute worst fear, despite my son's addiction and all of the darkness and pain that came along with it, was still something I could not imagine facing.
I'd faced addiction in people I loved before. I'd faced lumps and biopsies. I'd escaped domestic violence. I'd buried my dearest pet (and hardly eaten for a week). I didn't realize each of these survivals was preparing me, making me stronger.
Then Ethan died.
My worst nightmare came true. My reality shifted from what I had known to living what had been unimaginable. There was no path to follow, no plan for how to survive. It was the thing that I didn't believe there was a way to survive, not in a way that saw life go on with any degree of normalcy.
Yet, the next morning I got up again. One day at a time I accepted a new reality. Somehow despite all the pain and the sense of being lost in a dark place inside much of the time, days passed, then weeks, months, and finally a year.
The thing I ran from became my reality and changed who I am.
It's a oxymoron that losing Ethan made me stronger, but at the same time chipped away that tough veneer I showed the world, that professional objectivity I'd spent 25 years as a journalist perfecting. Now, instead of running from someone else's pain, I'm more likely to cry for and with them. I want to help them bear it because having gotten this far, I know I'm stronger and that one day, in their own time, they will be stronger, too.
I want people who have lost a child, regardless of the age or circumstance, to realize none of us are alone in what we are feeling. Whether it's a tragedy that rallies the community for a few weeks, or one that no one knows how to talk about, what we're left feeling is the same broken sense of being. We're still mothers and father and aunts and uncles and grandparents, it's just that our children aren't where we can touch them any more. They live every day in our hearts and through faith we will see them again someday.
Now when I hear of a child dying, my prayer is for those left behind and it's usually said with tears in my eyes because I know what they are going through. Knowing that the things I needed to hear were the words only other parents who had lost children could say, I try to reach out whenever I can. I try to pass on the love I felt when my friends who had lost children came to my house after Ethan's death, when strangers hugged me with tears in their eyes.
I still like to pretend I've had my share of pain and that life has been as dark for me as it will ever be, but I also realize there is no quota to be met. Bad things could still happen and all the fears that I still carry for my loved ones and myself could become real all too easily. There are still things I don't think I can survive, but sometimes there's a part of me that says it's more of a matter of not wanting to live through than it is inability to survive. And perhaps that's what it was all along.