I came across this essay in one of my many support groups and it resonated so strongly with me that I had to share it because it expresses my reality so well. I do get stopped by his memory through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal, every kid on a scooter. (Although, for anyone who knew Pierson, cereal was a pipe dream for breakfast!) But as the author states, the memories and the loss is a difficult place for us to enter and the COVID-19 quarantine didn’t give me a choice. I have had to enter that place. I have had to face what I have worked so hard to avoid. His absence. My son is gone and he’s not ever coming back. All the hopes and dreams, the future…. everything I held dear and loved for over 14 years was gone in an instant.
I haven’t been able to avoid this at all since the quarantine and I have yearned to end the pain that is living life without my son. But it’s not my time, and he left me with work that still needs to be done. He left me with years of open conversations about what it was like for him to live with that pain every single day. And only now that I have experienced a glimpse of that myself am I able to actually imagine a bit of what his life was like living with suicidal thoughts and ideations for years. I can tell you he was truly a brave, bold, giving, and kind human. He was a fierce advocate and an even stronger warrior. But it doesn’t change that he is gone. It doesn’t change that I have to learn how to continue living without him.
I hope this essay helps those who haven’t experienced this kind of loss have more understanding and in turn, I hope that this also resonates with other survivors like it did with me. Michael Crelinsten, from The Compassionate Friends, you have expressed what I haven’t been able to and I thank you for that.
The gap between those who have lost children and those who have not is profoundly difficult to bridge. No one whose children are well and intact can be expected to understand what parents who have lost children have absorbed, what they bear. Our children now come to us through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal, every kid on a scooter. We seek contact with their atoms – their hairbrushes, toothbrushes, their clothing.
We reach out for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded. A black hole has been blown through our souls and, indeed, it often does not allow the light to escape. It is a difficult place. For us to enter there is to be cut deeply and torn anew, each time we go there, by the jagged edges of our loss. Yet we return, again and again, for that is where our children now reside. This will be so for years to come and it will change us, profoundly. At some point, in the distant future, the edges of that hole will have tempered and softened, but the empty space will remain–a life sentence.
Our friends will change through this. There is no avoiding it. We grieve for our children in part, through talking about them, and our feelings for having lost them. Some go there with us; others cannot and, through their denial, add a further measure, however unwitting, to an already heavy burden. Assuming that we may be feeling “better” 6 months later is simply “to not get it”. The excruciating and isolating reality that bereaved parents feel is hermetically sealed from the nature of any other human experience. Thus it is a trap–those whose compassion and insight we most need are those for whom we abhor the experience that would allow them that sensitivity and capacity. And yet, somehow, there are those, each in their own fashion, who have found a way to reach us and stay, to our immeasurable comfort. They have understood, again each in their own way, that our children remain our children through our memory of them. Their memory is sustained through speaking about them and our feelings about their death. Deny this and you deny their life. Deny their life and you have no place in ours.
We recognize that we have moved to an emotional place where it is often very difficult to reach us. Our attempts to be normal are painful, and the day to day carries a silent, screaming anguish that accompanies us, sometimes from moment to moment. Were we to give it its own voice, we fear we would become truly unreachable and so we remain “strong” for a host of reasons even as the strength saps our energy and drains our will. Were we to act out our true feelings, we would be impossible to be with. We resent having to act normal, yet we dare not do otherwise.
People who understand this dynamic are our gold standard. Working our way through this over the years will change us as does every experience– and extreme experience changes one extremely. We know we will have actually managed to survive when, as we have read, it is no longer so painful to be normal. We do not know who we will be at that point nor who will still be with us.
We have read that the gap is so difficult that, often, bereaved parents must attempt to reach out to friends and relatives or risk losing them. This is our attempt. For those untarnished by such events, who wish to know in some way what they, thankfully, do not know, read this. It may provide a window that is helpful for both sides of the gap.
~ By Michael Crelinsten TCF,
Victoria, British Columbia