Since Jake’s death less than eight weeks ago, we have become members of a very exclusive group. It is part of a society that everyone joins sooner or later, but no one really thinks about it much. The Grief Community. The only prerequisite for membership is that you have lost someone or something that is precious to you. It can be a loved one, family member, relationship, home, a precious memento; there are so many things to lose. And of course the degree of grief varies with the type of loss. The worst is when someone you love dies. It is so final. With a home, you can rebuild. With a relationship, you can forge a new one. You can find another job, pocket watch or iPhone. Death, on the other hand is irreversible.
This community doesn’t get much publicity. It isn’t a secret society, per se, but it doesn’t exactly advertise for members. There are organizations, web sites, discussion groups, chat rooms, blogs, and books, all for the purpose of providing support and whatever comfort there may be in ‘company’. After all, aren’t we told that misery loves company? Well, there is plenty of company out there for us. Within that larger community, there are groups of every description for every type of loss. People who have lost spouses, parents, siblings, children, friends, all have a different experience shaded by whatever relationship they had with the departed. The 50-year-old adult who loses a parent has a very different outlook than an expectant mother who loses an unborn child, or a brother who loses a sister to a hit and run driver.
But everyone in this community, anyone who has ever worked with grieving people, anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, agrees that the loss of a child is unique. Our children are a part of us, literally. They carry our DNA, our heritage; we created them. When we lose a child, a piece of us dies with them, leaving an empty space in our being that can never be filled. There are many groups for parents who have lost children, and within those are sub-groups: Parents who have lost infants, toddlers, 6-12 year olds, teenagers, young adult children, and so on. Groups for different causes of death: illness, accident, suicide, drugs. The permutations are myriad. Again, each group has a different perspective, but the overarching theme that unites us all is the anguish, the heart-wrenching sense of loss, the pain, both physical and emotional of our children being cheated out of their future, us out of ours. It is such a tragic waste. Every parent thinks about it, tries to imagine what it would be like. The reality is like nothing you can ever imagine.
There is no other human experience with which to compare it. People are born, they live, they die. That is the way of life. But when a child dies before his or her parents, it is a disruption of the natural order. An abomination. The world suddenly turns topsy-turvy, and nothing is ever the same. Nothing. Ever. The. Same … Ever. It is as if you wouldn’t be surprised to see the sun rise in the West, or birds fly North for the winter, or Summer follow Autumn. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They just aren’t. Parents are not supposed to inherit their children’s belongings, it is the other way ’round. Parents aren’t supposed to spend their golden years pining for their dead children, wondering ‘what if’ …
My life is divided into two parts. The Before and the After. There is no going back. I struggle every day to make sense of the After. There is no sense to be made. It really is a moment by moment affair now. There are occasions where I feel slightly sane, can function on a basic level, go shopping, out for a dinner, visit with friends. But suddenly, without warning, it can get ugly. The emotional ambush strikes at any instant, transforming a pleasant experience into a cauldron of anguish and longing. If only I could brew up a magic spell to bring him back. And there are times when I just feel shitty. No two ways about it. Don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to leave the house. Don’t want to speak to anyone, go anywhere, do anything. That passes eventually, but I don’t have to apologize to anyone for feeling that way. Our friends and family understand. But only insofar as they can.
In the past few days I have spoken, via internet messages and emails, with many parents who are grieving for their lost children. Of all ages, from all causes, from just a few months ago to ten years on. It is an amazingly diverse and compassionate group. And the benefit, if you can call it that, is that these people know what you are feeling, no matter how old their child was when he or she died, no matter from what cause. There are subtleties of perception, differing perspectives, ways of dealing with it, but at the core, the degree of pain is identical for everyone; it is an unbearable agony that has to be borne. These people have been through it, are going it through with you. We all have insights to offer each other from wherever on the road we happen to be. It is a constantly changing and evolving landscape. There are many similarities in what we all write, those of us who have chosen to chronicle the ‘After’ lives we now lead. The experience manifests itself in so many different ways, yet all so alike.
Honestly, it may not help, having someone who ‘gets it’ to talk to. Sometimes I think nothing can make any difference one way or the other. That I will just have to figure it out on my own, and that is true for each of us on this journey. But it doesn’t hurt either. There are only two kinds of people in this world: those who have lost children and those who have not. We now belong to that horrific club no one wants to join; the price of initiation is far too high. There is some comfort in knowing we are not alone, that what I am feeling isn’t crazy, or that I am not expected to behave in some specific way at pre-determined intervals. That I can just do and feel whatever the hell I do or feel, whenever the hell I feel like it, and that’s okay. It may not sit well with some people who have no idea of what we are going through, which is everyone in the “haven’t lost children” group, who might expect us to follow some idealized grief timetable. But with my people, those of us in the “have lost children” fellowship, whatever, whenever is just fine with them.