To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I spent an incredibly wonderful week-end with family. We celebrated my 6-year-old grand-daughter’s birthday with all the trimmings. My daughter and son-in-law are the kind of hosts who make company feel like they can kick off shoes, eat belt loosening quantities of lasagna, curl up on a spare bed. It’s a quality that I can’t learn from Martha Stewart, but that kind of hospitality comes naturally to GE and Jonathan. The feelings of love and joy were almost palpable.
For me, the elephant in the room was Jack who was not physically present. Maybe in spirit. Death makes him a spiritual elephant. It is in jubilation that I most feel his absence. I told Bob that I love helping GE plan and instigate the celebration. It’s the time when everyone is so, so happy that I want to creep away, maybe hide under the bed with my Nook, coming out to help her put things away and listen to her debrief about the party.
It isn’t about me even one bit. It’s about a super precious 6-year-old and her super precious mom, dad, and brother. Knowing that down to my bone marrow, I can have a good time observing. I ended up dragging around the camera and getting some good pics while I avoided conversation. I’d have scrubbed grout to avoid conversation but that would have just been weird.
I ended up visiting with another mother, a woman who is having a tough time with her daughter. Her child is a little younger than Jack was when he died, maybe 19, and she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do. The process is agonizing to a parent; it feels like watching trains collide. I said something using the present tense about my two children, and knowing that Jack died 3-1/2 years ago, she gave me a funny look. I wanted to protest, “I still have two children!” I am not the mother of an only child.
I am in the process of drawing this year’s Christmas card. For the past 3 years, my cards have featured Jack in various roles. I’ve had questions about how I plan to make the card, but I’ve also gotten comments where the underlying sentiment is that I need to get back to normal Christmas cards. Oh, well. Drawing Jack’s face into a card is comforting to me; it feels like he’s a part of the holiday, not apart from the holiday.
Just as Jack’s birth changed me forever, so his death created a metamorphism. I’m not the same woman I was before January 15, 2009. I didn’t die even though, at first, that was what I wanted. Not for me to die in addition to Jack, but instead of him. If only. If and only are great words separately but stab them together and they sky-rocket me to Fantasyland. Never a good place for this alkie.
Time passes. It cannot regenerate what was lost. Phantom pains will always haunt the hearts that Jack touched. That’s the reality. Life goes on.