I’d choose grief.William Faulkner (1897 – 1962)
Is that true? I ask myself. Of course it is. I am grieving the life of my son, a life that stopped 20 years, 4 weeks, 3 days after his birth. It was a life that could cause incredible worry and fear; Jack’s enormous good humor mitigated the concern. He could whip the negative into positive in an attosecond.
Memories of his crazy headed ways are important to me. They both hurt and console. I have a friend who lost her son a few years before Jack died. She still can’t look at his pictures, his writings. I will not do that. Mourning his death can’t overshadow the joy of Jack’s life.
That doesn’t mean that grief can’t paralyze me. Sitting at the drive-through at Whataburger, the thought of shared car meals on the way to a play rehearsal drifts through my mind. I gasp at the pain. A few months ago, I listened to a tornado survivor relate how he opened the front door to check the sky and the tornado sucked him out of the house, landing him in a grain field a couple of hundred yards away. That’s what I think Grief can do. I white knuckle the steering wheel to keep the memory from taking me away.
Recently, a former boss let me know that his son had been viciously attacked in a home invasion and is in a coma at a local trauma center. I know his son on several levels. He was just out of high school when he came to work for his dad, a goofy kid who asked what time was quitting time and if we were working on Saturday as soon as he got to the job on Monday morning. He worshiped his dad who is well known in the construction community, dabbling in local politics and community affairs; he wanted his dad’s life without knowing all that entailed.
I met him a few years ago at a 12 step recovery meeting. I knew there was a reason I liked you! I exclaimed when I saw him. There’s an instant connection with members of my tribe. I rejoiced every time I saw him at meetings. It isn’t natural for us to live life as it comes without the anti-reality insulation of alcohol and drugs. My friend’s son had Type 1 diabetes; it wasn’t helped by his earlier lifestyle. Seeing him go through serious health problems without drinking or using encouraged me.
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing Eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine
– Or has an Easier size.Emily Dickinson
I put off going to the hospital until today. I feigned bad health and overwork since I got the news on Monday. It was difficult to sit in the ICU waiting room, listening to my friend whistle in the dark while his son lay in a coma. At least they are still in the ICU, not the morgue. I have that thought and curse my insensitivity.
I can be a grief snob with other people. You think that’s bad? I’ve lost my child! Is it worse to lose a child or a parent? What if you only have one child? I hate that thinking. Loss is loss. I’m not sure there’s a grief scale except in my think-o-meter.
I endured an evangelical minister praying over the family. I wanted to believe that Brother R could channel the power of God and make things right, but I can’t believe that way. What if’s and If only‘s are dangerous because they toss me into Fantasyland. Prayer is important to me; I couldn’t live without it. But I believe the person who is helped most by prayer is me. I don’t believe that it changes life’s course. If I believe it can do that, then I have to believe that I can pray a football team to victory or save my son’s life. If only. That kind of tiptoeing through the tulips and travelling down the yellow brick road is treacherous for me.
I sat and patted hands, turned down the chance to go into the ICU to pray with the minister. There was a point when I focused on my breathing, letting myself connect with the God of my understanding. After a half hour, I said my good-byes and walked to the hospital chapel.
I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm –
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
I sat in a pew for a while, talking to God. If my mind could be amplified, I’d have probably brought hospital security into the little room. I was not using my inside voice which was a little weird since it was all in my head. How much more inside can you get? God and I are on a first name basis, but it usually isn’t “jerkface.”
I never want another parent to lose their children. I brace myself when I meet someone who has recently suffered such a loss. Inevitably, someone asks me to talk to them and I never know what to say. Say that there will be a time when the pain is less intense? That they will laugh and enjoy life again and feel horribly guilty about it but do it anyway? That there will never be a day that doesn’t start with the knowledge that their child isn’t alive? That they will continue to live even when they want to curl up and will breathing to stop?
I have found all of those things to be true.
It is impossible to pick the words so I usually just listen and nod. No answer. No solution. Just the knowledge that if I had a choice between grief and nothing, that I will always choose grief.