Time can dull the pain of losing a child, but nothing can erase painful memories. This came to me yesterday on Father's Day as I painfully recalled the death of my late husband, Fred. He died six weeks after our son, Chris, was tragically killed. Fred had been ill for a long time. He had all the major complications of Type1 diabetes. He was only 57, but had been diabetic from a young age.
He was quite visually oriented as he had been an art school graduate and graphic designer. Then a a VP at a small advertising agency and finally, a corporate Executive Art Director. He was probably one of the most respected art directors in the large city in which he worked. He had won many awards. He treated his employees well. In an an industry known to have its share of verbal abuse and sexual harassment. He was extremely social, funny and ethical in an industry also known to have its share of kickbacks from vendors anxious to land advertising projects. Plus, an industry with a lot of stress which I believe adversely affected his diabetes.
Life is perverse. By the time he died, he could hardly see, was on kidney dialysis three times a week, had lost both legs and three fingers. He was pretty much helpless. And abandoned by most of his family, most of his co-workers and all but three friends. Life is hard and unjust when you suffer with a long term, chronic illness. There are people we come across in life we don't wish harm, but if something happens to them, we are not terribly sorry. Fred was definitely not in that category. I remember thinking at Fred's funeral, where is so and so and this one and that one. The things we remember. Fred was truly a good man, a good husband and good father. I am crying while writing this. Of all people, Fred never deserved to suffer. Life is truly not fair.
About a week after Chris died, Fred asked me to take him back to the cemetery. I had purchased three graves and was planning to purchase one headstone with our three names on it. Fred asked me what grave he would be in. I told him the middle one. He seemed satisfied with that and said, "Let's go." I knew then he would die soon because he wasn't so much giving up as letting go. He had been through thick and thin, but now finally was at peace, knowing that Chris was at peace. I believed and he knew his time was at hand.
When Chris laid in his coffin, I held his hand at the funeral home before visitors arrived. I told Chris how I loved him, how much I missed him, but he had a job to do. I told Chris his job now was to bring Dad home to heaven. And Chris did. He helped bring Dad to peace at last. His suffering was finally over. My Aunt told me she had a vision of heaven. Chris was playing the guitar Fred was in front of an easel and painting.
Fred died on November 2nd. That is a significant holy day in Catholicism. It is when we pray for all the deceased souls to enter paradise. Perhaps, it was God's message to me that he knew Fred was a good man. And now he was at peace with his son. Their suffering was over. Mine would go on for some time yet. I was 53 and both a bereaved parent and widow. Yes, life is indeed hard. We take our blows with our bows.
I was so overwhelmed by Chris's death that it was impossible for me to grieve over Fred. I would think of Fred and say to myself, "Fred died." Then go back to grieving over Chris. Fred's death was like a blip on the radar screen. I couldn't process it until two years later when a good friend suddenly lost her husband. Somehow, I felt the time was right. I took her to the bereavement support I went to when Chris died. I finally was able to open up about Fred.
I think today, while writing this, was the hardest I ever cried over Fred. Perhaps, because I have been in terrible physical pain for the last five months from trigeminal neuralgia and a cervical fusion from several years ago which never fully fused or solidified. I have been praying to Chris and Fred to get me through this and guide my treatment decisions. Maybe, I can finally let go because I am happy with my new kind, loving and supportive husband.
I know he has the same painful memories of caring for his very ill wife. She was even on a ventilator. He found himself alone as well when caring for her. Family and friends said, "Let me know if I can help." We both experienced that. When we called, they were suddenly "busy" or little, if any, help if they did manage to show up. It is hard for either of use to talk about these painful memories. It cannot change what happened. His late wife was good and kind woman. They raised six children together. I know he loved her as I loved my Fred. We both understand what the other has been through. We both honor commitment. We are no longer alone in our distress. I believe, we have a deep and abiding love which has been enhanced by loss. Maybe, if we have loss in love, we love harder.
I think we both understand each other's past without words. There is no point in hashing out the details. We listen empathetically to each other if this topic does comes up, but neither of us wants to dwell on it. We accept if either of us wants to go to the cemetery, has sad moments or days and keeps old photos. Our pasts will always be our pasts. We cannot erase memories and walk away from love. We will both always have feelings for our late spouses. The is the cycle of life---old, new and renewed. God bless.
Love is patient; love is kind.....Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
If you are a bereaved parent who wants to join your deceased child or thinks your spouse would be better off without you, please get HELP immediately from your doctor, 911 or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) 24/7.