As 2022 closes I find myself in the shadows of past memories of my late son, Chris, and late husband, Fred. It's like an invisible cloud passing over me now and again. And for some of us, a constant cloud always reminding us, yet, of the loss of our children.
It's not that I didn't enjoy Christmas, but a feeling of strangeness came over me as I ate dinner with my new husband's family. I thought to myself, "What am I doing here with these people? Shouldn't I be with Chris and Fred and my dear little dog, Amber?" Then I realized, that was then. This is now. This is now the life God has granted me and the life I have put together for myself.
It's not that I don't love my new husband and his family, but it is his family. I love them and care for them deeply. I am interested in their lives. And I realize, "Life is what happens when we are making other plans." How true.
I had hoped to live longer with my husband, Fred. But his suffering and disability became so great, his passing became a relief to him and to me. He died just six weeks after Chris. I had hoped Chris would have a future, a job and a family. He had just completed a his classes in printing at a trade school and graduated a few weeks prior to his death. He died on a Friday. On a Monday morning a man called my home to offer Chris a job at a small printing company. I had to tell him the terrible news. He apologized profusely for having disturbed me. And I replied I was very grateful that he had called to consider Chris for a job.
I had never really talked to my stepchildren about Chris' death. The details of what had happened. Inadvertently, it came out when my stepson was in the hospital and unexpectedly, newly paralyzed following neck surgery. He walked into the hospital, but it was clear, he would not be walking out. He was not in a good emotional state. I started telling him that for now he had a choice as to how to handle this. I began recounting Chris' death, then Fred's. And finally waking up one morning with the realization, that I could either go on with life or let their deaths destroy me. That I had a decision to make and it was mine alone with God's help.
In the background, I could hear my stepdaughter asking another brother, "What's this? I never heard any of this." His answer, "Don't ask me. Neither did I." In a way I guess it was striking that none of them ever asked me about my son. How did he die? How old was he? What did he do? One of my other stepsons lost a daughter to addiction. I shared with him early on that I had lost a 23 year old son. But not much else. It was a buy, noisy family gathering, but I think we both came to an understanding or appreciation of each other's pain. He never discussed the circumstances of his daughter's death either, but my husband filled me in.
That's kind of my point. Circumstances, memories, experiences of our deceased children, seem to remain in the background, but are always there. But, there, as shadows and clouds. Is that because we get upset talking about their deaths? Or are we afraid of upsetting others? Afraid people will not understand or appreciate our pain? Afraid of being judged which happens often when kids are lost due to suicide or drugs. People tend to gloss over that kind of grief. As if to say, "The Kid had problems. What did you expect?" This is called disenfranchised grief, where parents do not get the same kind of sympathy as when a child dies of an illness or an accident.
How can we open wide the doors to our grief? I suppose it is a matter of getting over our self-consciousness and guilt that our children died. My stepdaughter's sister-in-law shared with me that her husband had lost his daughter at 16 to a sudden ruptured brain aneurysm. Nothing could be done. As they were leaving the house, I mentioned to him that I had lost a son who was 23. We discussed our mutual grief for a few minutes then they left.
My step-daughter's husband then, excitedly, told me, "Rosemarie, don't bring that up again. It took Mark a long time to get over that. You shouldn't say anything to him to upset him." I replied that Mark did not seem upset. That he seemed to me to appear grateful, that someone who had been through this same loss, understood what he had gone through and would continue to go through. Again, it seemed like a mutual bond.
We cannot help each other and ourselves by not sharing what we have be through. How loss changes us in some bad ways, but in good ways too. But in the American culture, death seems to be a taboo topic except on Halloween when it is fantasy. There were a lot of taboo subjects in years past, like cancer, especially breast cancer. When I was a very young nurse, patients were often not told they had cancer. The family was told, but not the patient. Look how far that has come. Look at the number of TV commercials for cancer treatment centers, cancer drugs and cancer patients telling their own treatment and life stories.
If cancer can come that far out into the open, then why not grief? Why must grief be a terrible pain that is born alone? That spouses won't talk to each other about. That parents won't talk to living children about? That's not allowed to be mentioned around friends and co-workers without being cut off.
Well, let me give you my "Dear Abby" answer to anyone who tries to silence you: "Grief is something we will all have to go through. No use pretending this pain does not or will not exist. Even more so when a child dies. Please open your heart and try to listen." Let's acknowledge our humanity and take our grief out of the shadows.
"I trust in God and am not afraid...." Psalm 56: 4 "He will answer from heaven and save me..." Psalm 57: 3
Keep me in your prayers and I will remember you in mine. Comments and followers are most welcome.